Ontario Wages War on Ticket Bots: AG Yasir Naqvi Talks Strategy, Fines, Jail Time

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The Tragically Hip perform during their 'Man Machine Poem Tour' at Rogers Arena on July 24, 2016 in Vancouver, Canada.

The Ontario government will be tabling The Ticket Sales Act in the fall to curb unfair ticket reselling practices. Those who break the law could face financial penalties as high as $250,000 ($190,000 USD) and possible jail time. 

After tickets for The Tragically Hip's final tour last year appeared immediately on ticket resale sites at outrageous markups, the familiar practice finally caught the attention of those with legislative power. The rock band's frontman Gord Downie had terminal brain cancer and pricing fans out of attending the shows became big news.

The province posted an online survey in February about ticket buying and selling that was completed by more than 34,000 people across Ontario over two weeks. Ninety percent reported buying tickets at least twice a year; 15 percent more than 10 times a year. Eighty-nine percent felt that ticket-buying software should be illegal. Eighty-five percent said posting tickets on a resale site before selling to the public should be illegal.

Music Canada's first-ever live music study in 2013 reported that 550 music festivals in Ontario sold almost 16 million tickets. That doesn't include all the concerts and at clubs, theatres, arenas, amphitheatres and stadiums. The Ticket Sales Act also pertains to sports, theatre and other events.

Proposed changes to the ticket laws include:

  • Banning ticket bots and the sale of tickets that were purchased using bots
  • Capping the resale price of tickets at 50 percent above face value
  • Requiring businesses selling tickets to disclose more information to consumers
  • Establishing new enforcement measures to help make sure that ticket selling and reselling businesses are following the rules


Billboard spoke with the Honorable Yasir Naqvi, Attorney General of Ontario, about the logistics of enforcing such laws and who would be held accountable.

How are you going to monitor the use of bots and what kinds of fines and charges will there be?

What we are proposing to do is make it illegal for the buying of tickets by bots, selling or reselling of tickets that were bought by bots and also facilitating the sale or resale of tickets that were bought by bots. In other words, what we're really addressing is the transaction or the sale of bots that takes place in Ontario -- because once tickets are bought by bots, they then appear on resale websites to be sold, and we want those resellers, those platforms, to regulate and make sure those tickets being sold are not tickets scooped by bots.

But how?

They [the platforms] have told us that they have the technology. They already do a fair bit of work in making sure that bots are not used. In Ontario, 80 percent of the market is between Ticketmaster and StubHub and they do their very best to prevent bots from scooping up the tickets or to sell the tickets. They have to monitor.

Let's say that they do, how can you find the culprits behind the bots, and then fine or charge them?

That's something that police would have to investigate. We fully recognize that that is a difficult task. That's why what we're also saying is that platforms, here in Ontario, we're asking them not to put those tickets for sale. So we're making them also responsible so they do not facilitate the sale because we have jurisdiction over them.

So you could charge StubHub and Ticketmaster and Vivid Seats?

Or fine. We're also giving them the power or the right of action to sue people behind bots and to make sure that they can bring a lawsuit. This is something that they have asked and need those kinds of resources available to them.  But we fully recognize, and this is why we're going to the point of sale, the sale is taking place in our province, in Ontario, through these platforms.  We are also saying in our proposal that those who enter the marketplace, who sell or resell, must have nexus to Ontario. In other words, that they have an address in Ontario or they are incorporated in Ontario, so that we have jurisdiction over them. Like StubHub recently did, they've created a StubHub Canada and they've incorporated and now they are a business entity here in Ontario.

It sounds good in theory but there's people openly selling drugs on Craigslist Toronto; cyclists whizzing through stop signs and traffic lights; people smoking inside the Air Canada Centre, and few if anyone ever gets fined. How can this be enforced, let alone prosecuted? And don't the resellers make too much money to care about a fine or charge unlikely to happen or stick?

Just because it's difficult doesn't mean we don't do it, that we don't try to stop it. And that's why we have proposals to address this problem. This problem is not unique to Ontario. All of the jurisdictions are trying to grab hold of it and if somebody would've come up with the most perfect solution, we all would have been following it. 

One of the other things we're doing is take the financial incentive out of selling tickets by putting a cap on markups and by capping the markups at 50 percent significantly takes the incentive out of scooping of tickets and then inflating those tickets, four, five, six times more than the original face value of the tickets.

In terms of fines, we're introducing a penalty system where there could be fines up to $10,000 that could be imposed. That will be through our Consumer Protection Ontario agency. We will be adding inspectors to that agency who will be dedicated to investigate and enforce the law. We're also creating a provincial offence that could be pursued, under which if you're an individual you could have a fine up to $50,000 and if you're a corporation up to $250,000 and even jail time up to two years. So we are putting power behind it as well to enforce the rules.