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Tepid anti-touting law exposed

By Henry Siu

Hong Kong, 4 November 2022: News that a student was swindled out of HK$230,000 when she tried to buy tickets to watch singer Eason Chan has once again placed the spotlight on Hong Kong’s shady secondary ticket market. Efforts by the authorities to crack down on dubious practices have met with limited success, while the maximum fine for touting has remained unchanged for decades.

The woman, who lives in Kowloon, reported to police last month that she had received messages from a scalper on Weibo offering to sell her tickets to a series of concerts by Canto-pop star Chan at the Hong Kong Coliseum in December. After the tout convinced her to buy a large number of tickets, she transferred the money to eight mainland bank accounts. He then disappeared. Police launched an investigation and reminded the public to only purchase concert tickets through official channels.

Earlier this year, hugely popular boyband Mirror co-operated with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (”LCSD”) on an initiative to combat scalping. All tickets sold via the Urbtix website for their Coliseum concerts in July and August required real-name registration. The move followed reports that tickets which had been made available earlier in a prioritised sale by an event sponsor were being offered on the black market at eye-watering prices.

While concerts and sporting events are typically targeted by scalpers, other forms of entertainment can also fall prey. In July, the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority intervened after third-party websites began offering tickets to the new Hong Kong Palace Museum. Citizens complained about being asked to pay up to HK$200 for special exhibition tickets which originally cost HK$120. Tickets for regular admission, which could be booked for free, were going for HK$75 each.

There are several pieces of legislation relevant to scalping activities, the most important one being the Places of Public Entertainment Ordinance (Cap. 172) (“PPEO”). The other regulations are mainly concerned with unauthorised selling or soliciting in specified venues or public places. Section 6 of the PPEO was enacted in response to growing “intolerable nuisance” caused by on-street ticket scalping.

Section 6(1) made it an offence for any person selling, offering for sale, or soliciting purchase, tickets for admission of events held at licensed venues at “a price exceeding the amount fixed by the proprietor, manager or organizer”. Ticket sellers breaching this rule are liable to a fine of HK$2,000 under Section 6(2), which has remained unchanged for decades and such level of fine seems archaic in today’s time.

By virtue of the Places of Public Entertainment (Exemption) Order (Cap. 172D), which came into effect on 15 January 2003, venues that are managed by the Home Affairs Department and LCSD have been exempted from the licensing requirements for places of public entertainment under the PPEO. The LCSD controls the largest number of performance and recreation venues in Hong Kong, including the 12,500-seat Coliseum.

This arrangement is now viewed as a loophole for scalpers as tickets for events at these venues are not subject to the regulation. To combat it, the LCSD limits sponsor and priority sales to no more than 80% of available tickets at the Coliseum and Queen Elizabeth Stadium, or 70% if there are four or more performances. The figure is 49% for other LCSD venues.

While scalpers can use automated software to scoop up large amounts of online tickets, old fashioned “queueing gangs” – people hired to line up outside venues before booking kiosks open – are still prevalent, a practice which blights LCSD sports grounds and recreation facilities. Sports enthusiasts continue to be frustrated at finding pitches and courts fully booked, even during non-peak hours. There have been reports of touts charging four times the standard HK$296 fee for use of a basketball court.

From the start of this month, the LCSD unveiled tougher anti-touting measures, including longer booking bans for people who fail to show up to use the facility or are found to have transferred a user permit to someone else. Last May, in an attempt to beat queueing gangs, the LCSD began opening online booking services for sports venues 15 minutes before kiosks.

In summary, current laws to combat scalping would appear insufficient and outdated. Four years ago, the Consumer Council called for revision of the existing legislation to give the public better protection. Shortly after, members of the Legislative Council’s Panel on Home Affairs urged the authorities to step up anti-touting efforts. With more cultural and sporting events being organised as Hong Kong gradually loosens Covid-19 restrictions, it remains to be seen if the government is stirred to take stronger action.

Henry Siu is a Partner in BC&C. He works across a range of practice areas, bringing his experience to bear in Civil and Criminal Litigation, while he also handles a range of non-contentious matters. He can be contacted at Henry@boasecohencollins.com.

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