It shaped up as an exciting night when Curtis Paine headed to the Great Western Forum to watch his hometown hockey team, the Philadelphia Flyers, play the Kings.
The real excitement came before game time, however. That’s when the Glendale fan says he decided to hunt for better seats than those being offered at the box office.
When Paine held up two fingers indicating to other arriving fans that he was looking for two seats, Inglewood police swooped in and arrested him.
Handcuffed, photographed and placed in the back of a police van, Paine missed the game while his girlfriend waited anxiously outside a Forum entrance, worrying that he had been mugged.
Paine was getting a first-hand lesson on Inglewood’s no-nonsense law against ticket scalping that night in February.
No wonder the 36-year-old freelance film producer and writer can’t wait for the Kings to move to Los Angeles, where the streets outside sports events are often lined with people selling tickets.
But wait: Operators of the Staples Center--which will become home for the Kings, Lakers and Clippers when it opens downtown this fall--are eyeing the Inglewood approach to scalping.
Zero tolerance, say Staples officials. That’s the ticket.
Owners of the $360-million arena now under construction on Figueroa Street need to go no farther than Inglewood to find the country’s toughest anti-scalping law and its strictest enforcement.
A 15-year-old municipal ordinance that makes it illegal “to sell or offer to sell or purchase or offer to purchase any item including tickets on Forum or adjoining public property” has snagged thousands of scalpers--and ticket-hunting fans.
A spokesman for the Inglewood city attorney’s office said the city files as many as 5,000 misdemeanor cases a year that allege violation of the ordinance and related municipal laws.
For someone like Paine, who pleaded no contest to the charge, that results in a fine totaling $235, plus probation.
“They told me I can’t go to the Forum for six months--I’m on six months’ probation,” he said.
While in custody with other scalping suspects, Paine said he heard tales of fathers being arrested in front of their families. One man in the police van was taken into custody in front of a group of business clients.
“He said several of his clients hadn’t shown up and he decided to sell their tickets when he was arrested,” Paine said. “He was afraid he was going to be fired the next day.”
Those types of arrests are difficult for officers, said Inglewood Police Lt. Kent O’Steen, who has worked the Forum detail since 1976. He said officers get no satisfaction out of arresting fans innocently trying to buy tickets. But they do enjoy catching the professional scalpers--"homeboys,” as he put it.
“It’s unfortunate. I can remember a case in the playoffs last year when a doctor and his son were up here. To an 11-year-old, it’s kind of tough, seeing Dad thrown in the lion’s den with the homeboys. But if we arrest the homeboys, do we cut slack for the doctor out of Newport Beach? We can’t.”
So far this year, 105 alleged scalpers have been arrested at the Forum, O’Steen said.
Los Angeles takes a different approach to scalpers, according to Alan Dahle, an assistant city attorney who is in charge of case filings for the central Los Angeles area.
Scalping is illegal, but enforcement varies depending on location and circumstance, Dahle said.
At Dodger Stadium, private security guards chase away people selling tickets on the privately owned grounds. Repeat offenders can face trespassing charges, he said.
But enforcement is easier at the publicly owned Sports Arena, where the Clippers play. Public land around the Sports Arena is patrolled by Los Angeles police.
According to Dahle, Paine would never have been arrested on a scalping charge in Los Angeles because no business transaction occurred.
“Holding up two fingers? I’m sorry, he didn’t commit a crime,” he said.
Staples Center officials acknowledge that they cannot impose a tough anti-scalping policy without the agreement of local government agencies. The privately financed arena is being constructed on leased city land and will utilize parking lots owned by the center and the city.
“We intend to develop a policy with appropriate city officials and the police,” said Bobby Goldwater, senior vice president and general manager for the new arena. “We’re going to make it very, very difficult for anyone who wants to inappropriately or illegally sell tickets. We’re also going to do everything possible to discourage people trying to buy.”
A safe environment is necessary to attract people downtown to the 200 events that will be staged annually in the new arena, he said. “People are uncomfortable around scalpers.”
As for Paine, he may be looking for a new arena next year--and a new team.
“Maybe I’ll drive an extra half-hour to Anaheim and see the Flyers play the Ducks,” he said.