It's the flip side of a Kentucky basketball season filled with on-court success.
Outside the arena, police say they have seen an unprecedented level of scamming and scalping related to University of Kentucky basketball tickets.
Lexington police already have cited almost 50 people for scalping or illegal sales outside Rupp Arena this season — the highest level in years. Officials had to put out a scam alert after dozens of student tickets were altered for games in January and February. Students and other ticket-holders are using the Internet to find new ways to sell tickets above face value, sometimes for hundreds of dollars.
Now, university officials say that ticket scalpers have elevated things to a new level by manufacturing a high-quality counterfeit ticket that is nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.
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No one could tell those tickets, which first showed up at the Feb. 25 home game against South Carolina, were counterfeit until workers tried to scan the tickets and wound up turning those fans away because the tickets weren't recognized by the scanner, said Bill Owen, president and CEO of Lexington Center Corp.
"That's a tragic thing for a fan to experience," Owen said
"If you buy your ticket from some stranger across Broadway or Tates Creek Road on the way in, you are taking a risk," Owen said.
UK police chief Joe Monroe said he thinks the fake tickets were manufactured out-of-state and circulated among street scalpers. He said he expects to see them again at Sunday's game against the University of Florida. That game, the last home game of the season, has been sold-out since Feb. 2.
"People are coming into Lexington and taking advantage of the season by taking advantage of the fans who want to see the games," Monroe said.
UK officials have repeatedly said there are only two ways to obtain legitimate tickets: from the UK Athletics ticket office or from Ticketmaster.
But in a season of record-breaking crowds, many fans can only find tickets on the secondary market.
"With just one home game left these people that are buying tickets from people on the street need to be very careful," Monroe said.
Everyone should be aware
The Fayette County Attorney's office uses two statutes to prosecute ticket resale in Lexington: the state scalping law, which went into effect in 1975 and prevents tickets from being resold above face value; and a city ordinance that bans people from selling any merchandise within a block radius of Lexington Center on game days.
The city ordinance prohibits the sale of tickets, regardless of whether they are sold at or below face value, as well as any other merchandise.
Lexington police Commander Mike Blanton said everyone — including out-of-towners — should be familiar with the restriction because of signs and announcements on loudspeakers outside Rupp.
According to records obtained through an open-records request, Lexington police have cited 28 people this season for ticket scalping, punishable by up to a $250 fine.
Nineteen people have been arrested or cited this season for selling goods in the Lexington Center area, which is punishable by up to a $250 fine and seven days in jail. That's the highest number of citations since 2005, when police enforced the then-little-known ordinance at the request of Lexington Center officials.
During the 2005 police sting, more than 20 people were arrested at one game for violating the local ordinance, including many first-time offenders who were unaware of it.
The bulk of the cases from that 2005 sting were thrown out.
Brian Mattone, first assistant Fayette County attorney, said lower fines will typically be requested for first-time offenders.
Last season, only one person was prosecuted for ticket scalping, and no one was prosecuted during the 2007-08 season, according to records.
Lexington police spokesman Lt. Doug Pape said the heightened interest in UK men's basketball has increased scalping activity and required police to beef up enforcement.
"In the last two years there hasn't been this much interest in the tickets," Pape said.
Finding real tickets
In January, the UK ticket office determined that student tickets, which cost $5 at student lotteries held on campus, had been sold on Internet auctions to non-students. Sellers had altered the tickets in an effort to pass them off as regular season tickets, which cost $28 to $33 from UK's ticket office or Ticketmaster.
"The ones that I saw were actually altered with Wite- Out," said Lexington police Lt. Richard Willoby. "They would white out the 'student' portion."
Student tickets cannot be used by anyone without a valid student ID. The scam left 30 to 40 fans out in the cold in January and February, before the UK ticket office made changes to the student tickets, making them harder to alter.
Altered student tickets have not been seen since those changes were made, officials say.
Now, UK officials are faced with a problem they had not encountered in eight seasons: fake tickets.
Phony tickets began showing up that were of almost perfect quality except for two discrepancies: the hologram that's vertically stripped across the ticket and the blue ink print that says "Go Big Blue!" in the background.
Monroe said convincing fakes are typically seen at major sporting events, such as the Super Bowl.
"With the success of our program, this type of thing has happened," he said.
Mattone said the state legislature should "take a serious look" at the state's scalping law.
In the face of increased enforcement, some people have found more modern, creative ways to unload tickets than simply selling them on the street.
He said the county attorney's office has heard of Craigslist.com listings offering face-value tickets with a $100 pack of gum or a $500 UK2K T-shirt.
Mattone said these "sham transactions" are currently one of the most commonly exploited loopholes in the state law defining ticket scalping. Those cases can be hard to prosecute because you have to prove it's the ticket that's actually being sold instead of the item.
Similar transactions have popped up on the popular social-networking Web site Facebook.
Those who take the risk are potentially rewarded with higher profit this year than previous years, says UK sophomore Joe Reser, who has packaged student tickets with his hand-drawn artwork on Facebook.
"The tickets are my gift to those who have an eye for quality art," Reser said in his ad.
Reser says he obtained extra tickets in UK's student lottery to the UK-South Carolina game. He used one for himself and gave two others to the highest bidder for his artwork, which sold for $110.
"I went to all the games last year, and it was tough to give away tickets," Reser said. "Now, thanks to the basketball team doing incredibly well, it makes a big difference."
Other posts this season have offered free or face-value basketball tickets with the purchase of items like paper clips, collectible cups and plain white T-shirts.
"They are taking advantage of the way the statute is drafted," Mattone said. "UK police and metro police are monitoring, but right now they're just exploiting that loophole."
UK officials discourage fans from purchasing tickets second-hand. But Willoby had a simple suggestion for fans who intend to purchase aftermarket: "Be prudent."
"Look at what you're buying. Check it to see if it has something blacked out or whited out on it. Obviously these tickets aren't currency you can look at ... but if there's a strip of Wite-Out on there that's probably a good bet that that's not right," Willoby said.