"Yellow bull" scalpers run with Olympics tickets

BEIJING (Reuters) - Tickets for the Beijing Games have officially sold out, setting off China’s own running of the bulls -- “yellow bull” scalpers who want big profits for tickets to the Olympics’ hottest events.

NBA All Star Yao Ming walks past an Olympic sign during the official opening ceremony for the Olympic village in Beijing July 27, 2008. Tickets for the Beijing Games have officially sold out, setting off China's own running of the bulls -- "yellow bull" scalpers who want big profits for tickets to the Olympics' hottest events. REUTERS/David Gray

Despite threats of fines and possible detentions of up to 15 days, scalpers are offering thousands of pricey tickets on scores of websites, making enforcement efforts all but a farce.

“We prohibit the resale of tickets,” Zhu Yan, director of the Beijing Olympic Ticketing Centre, told a recent news conference. “If people want to transfer a ticket to someone else, that is OK, but you cannot resell it for profit.”

But that’s exactly what scalpers, known in Chinese as “huang niu” or yellow bulls, are doing.

Officials were not available at the ticketing office phone number and did not reply to emailed requests for an interview about widespread profiteering, although a series of measures have been put in place aimed at thwarting scalpers who buy up large amounts of tickets and then resell them later at inflated prices.

The number of tickets individuals could buy was restricted, and the most sought-after tickets to the opening and closing ceremonies are equipped with tags that hold ticket-holders’ personal passport and other details.

Opening and closing ceremony tickets can only be transferred once, and anyone whose personal details don’t match those on the ticket won’t get in.

But attempts to stop the scalpers have still fallen miserably short as buyers and sellers around the globe meet online on swap marts and other Internet auction sites -- rendering national borders meaningless.

Some ticket prices are being jacked up 10 or more times the face value, which in China ranged from 30 yuan ($4.40) to 1,000 yuan (about $150) for regular sporting events.

And just days before Wednesday’s transfer deadline for closing ceremony tickets, a choice ticket with a face price of 3,000 yuan (about $440) was being offered on one website for 30,000 yuan, or nearly $4,400.

Even so, the seller wasn’t worried no one would be willing to pay that much.

“I am just selling my spare tickets, and if they don’t go, I will be very happy to watch the Games myself,” she told Reuters, quickly adding, however, “my prices are negotiable.”

Xinhua reported that one opening ceremony ticket purchased for 5,000 yuan was resold for 210,000 yuan (nearly $30,800).

China has cracked down on a few unfortunate sellers. State media said some 60 scalpers had been caught as of Sunday, including at least 44 who will face either criminal charges or detention.

But that’s a drop in the ocean of scalpers online, many of whom are physically out of reach of Chinese authorities.

Games’ organizers have said the “resale of Olympics tickets for profit is illegal,” but that is being loosely interpreted by many ticket-sellers.

“I don’t think I need to worry about the police,” said one Shanghai man offering a closing ceremony ticket for 12 times its 400 yuan face value.

“I haven’t read the specific rules, but it’s not big money, just a single ticket,” said the seller, who asked that his name not be used in case police might come looking for him.

“They are more interested in the professional sellers,” he said hopefully.

Some organized scalpers dispatched ranks of helpers to buy the maximum number of tickets allowed. Later, these tickets were combined and offered for resale online, a virtual smorgasbord for buyers.

“I took the cost and time to get it, so it’s reasonable to sell it with a higher price,” said one Beijing-based ticket seller in justifying his hefty mark-ups.

Judging from the vast number of tickets being offered online, not to mention those that might be hawked on the streets, prices might soon start to plummet as scalpers worry about losing their investments and aim simply to unload their inventory.

With that in mind, at least one potential buyer in the United States sought to appeal to scalpers’ softer side.

“Desperately want tickets,” read the posting from a student, Ling Lin, in New Jersey.

“However, I am not really keen on paying for overpriced tickets. I am a poor college student ... If you are a considerate person who is really passionate about the Olympic Games and want to transfer the ticket to someone who is equally passionate, please contact me.”

As of Monday, the 20-year-old business major had no takers.

Shanghai resident Carolle Chen had a great opportunity to make a killing on her highly prized ticket to the opening ceremony.

She purchased the ticket for 1,500 yuan, but says she wasn’t even tempted to sell it for 10 times that amount after her 68-year-old father asked her to transfer it to him instead.

“Money is important, but happiness is more important,” she said. “If my father is satisfied with seeing the opening ceremony in person, that’s better than money.”