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Need a Ticket to Lakers? Just Call a Broker and Take Along Lots of $

Times Staff Writer

One ad reads: “Lakers. Buy & Sell. Top $ Paid.”

Another reads: “Lakers vs. Boston. VIP Tickets.”

Perhaps you’ve read them or similar ones in the paper. If you’re a Laker or Celtic fan, particularly one who rushed down to the Forum last week at dawn’s early light for the public sale of playoff seats for the NBA championship series, only to get shut out, you’re probably frustrated.

“Who are these guys?” you ask. Who are they, indeed? And where do they get seats to offer while the poor working slob has to sit home and endure Tommy Heinsohn on the tube?

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The Forum does not sell to ticket brokers, at least knowingly.

“We develop contacts with season-ticket holders,” said Larry Goss of the Superior Ticket Service. “We wind up offering them so much for their tickets that they’d be crazy not to sell to us.”

How much is so much?

Goss said he pays from $400 to $450 for a $50 seat, then tries to sell it for about $500.

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“We don’t have to make $500 on each seat we sell,” he said. “The people who make the real money are the season-ticket holders. We are the middle men. People come to us.”

Goss and two other ticket brokers said that they did not send people to the Forum to wait in line because, with the ticket holders coming to them, there was no need.

Five-hundred dollars may seem like a lot of money to pay to see a basketball game, but the buyers are out there. The top prices, brokers say, are nearly double those of a year ago.

“The L.A. fans are hungry for this one,” said Fred Ross, who runs the Front Row Center ticket service. “They want to see the Celtics get their butts kicked, once and for all. Then too, there are a lot of gamblers from all over the country who want to see this. They are the high rollers who don’t care what they spend. Maybe they’ve bet $10,000 to $20,000 on a game, so what’s another $500 to see it?”

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Ross, who has approximately 15 employees in his three ticket offices, has one client coming in from Chicago with a party of six for the games, paying $3,800 for tickets. Ticket brokers will dispense 150 to 200 tickets each for tonight’s game, Ross said.

While Ross was on the phone with a reporter, one of his employees got a call from someone with four $50-seats behind the Laker bench for both Game 4 tonight and Game 5 Friday night. Ross offered $275 for each of the Game 4 tickets, $350 for the Game 5 seats. The caller held out for $300 for tonight’s tickets, though, and Ross bought them all.

“The main reason I bought the Wednesday seats is to get the ones for Friday,” he said. “If it looks like the Lakers can clinch Friday, those tickets could be worth a zillion dollars. Who knows? You just have to wait and see. You could wind up getting stuck with them.”

When that happens, Ross admits that he may be inadvertently selling his leftover tickets to scalpers. A California law forbids the selling of tickets for profit on the premises of the event.

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“On any tickets I have left over (Wednesday), I will reduce the price every hour, every half-hour, until somebody buys them,” he said. “I have a very successful business and I don’t get into illegalities, but I may be selling to scalpers. When a guy comes to buy tickets, I don’t ask what he’s going to do with them. If he asks for 10 or 20 tickets, I assume he has a lot of friends.”

The demand is heavy because there just aren’t a lot of tickets to go around for the championship series. The Forum is not the Coliseum or Dodger Stadium, where 50,000 to 100,000 seats must be filled. The Forum holds 17,505 for basketball.

Right off the top, subtract 250 to 300 of those seats for the media. There are 10,000 season-ticket holders and they, allowed to purchase additional seats for the playoffs, bought 3,500 more this season. Another 1,000 seats go to the league, CBS, the officials, players and Laker executives.

So, there were fewer than 3,000 seats available before the public began lining up. Half of those were sold at the Forum and the remainder to the Lakers’ 100 ticket outlets. Tickets at the outlets went at the rate of 200 a minute.

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One outlet in Oxnard opened 10 minutes later than the others and by the time the third person in line stepped to the window, there was nothing left.

If the Lakers so chose, there could have been nothing left before the first outlet opened, but they have always limited season-ticket sales.

“We feel it is part of our duty to make tickets available to the public, to those who may not be able to buy season tickets,” said Claire Rothman, vice president in charge of booking at the Forum. “We are part of the community. We want to share the glory with everyone.”

It’s not all glory in the ticket business, Ross admitted.

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“Sometimes we will lose money or have to eat the tickets,” he said. “Sometimes we can give them away if we have time. I have a silver plaque on my wall from the United Way for tickets we have given away that are distributed to senior citizens and the handicapped. You try to minimize your losses. If it’s 4 p.m. on the day of the game, and you have a ticket you paid $100 for, you might have to try to sell it for $20. That’s $20 more than you will get the next day.”

Not everybody offers money.

“I’ve had people offering me drugs for tickets,” Ross said.

He politely declined. Sometimes, even for a ticket broker, the price is too high.

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