Auctions -- the playoff ticket for scalpers?

Despite efforts to crack down on online auctions for hot baseball playoffs tickets, you can easily find seats -- with the top bid.

Baseball fans seeking tickets to playoff games on Internet auction sites Tuesday had little trouble obtaining passage to their field of dreams - assuming they were willing to pay $400 or more for a pair of choice ducats.

eBay Inc. (ebay), which had previously said it would crack down on the potentially illegal scalping, continued to host ticket auctions for the playoffs. Sellers also offered their goods on Yahoo! Auctions, but after MSNBC.com inquired about the sales, Yahoo! (yhoo) said it would yank any auctions that run afoul of state or local laws.

Scalping tickets over the Internet occupies a legal gray area, since the transaction can be deemed to occur in one of several jurisdictions - where the auction site's servers are; where the seller or the buyer are; and even the city where a financial transaction is processed.

But rather than allow a secondary market of tickets to sports and other entertainment events to flourish, both leading online auction brokers have taken an approach that defies legal logic but offers some public relations cover.

While eBay's policy statement states that sellers must comply with anti-scalping laws on the books in New York and Missouri, among others, implementation of that policy appeared spotty at best on Tuesday.

Several auctions of tickets to home games for both New York teams - the Mets and the Yankees - were taking place Tuesday, some of which had bids far exceeding the $5 or 10 percent premium allowed for all entertainment events under New York state law.

In numerous cases, pairs of tickets to the games were listed at $400 or more - well above face value - though many had not received any bids.

Staff at eBay appeared to be more diligent in removing auctions for tickets to the first two National League playoff games in St. Louis, though MSNBC.com found a handful of sellers using gimmicks to get around Missouri's anti-scalping law. In those cases, the sellers either offered extra items - Willie McGee and Darryl Kile baseball cards, in two cases - or added on charges such as a "$175 personal delivery fee" to account for the higher-than-legal cost.

Kevin Pursglove, an eBay spokesman, said the site's policy statement instructs users to abide by anti-scalping laws in both those states, but that staff can't adequately review the more than five million items on the site to ensure compliance.

"We would remove those items if law enforcement in Missouri or New York or representatives of the leagues or the teams or some other interested party contacted us and said, 'You are hosting a number of items that violate our policy or law,'" he said.

He said the site had no restriction on the sales of tickets to games at the Seattle Mariners' home field because Washington state has no anti-scalping laws.

The city of Seattle does have such a law on the books, however.

"It is not prudent to talk about our enforcement activities," Seattle police spokesman Sean O'Donnell said, "but obviously we are aware that goes on."

Yahoo! was an even more-rollicking e-ticket marketplace, with more than 100 listings at midday to games in all four cities. In one case, a set of four box seats to Sunday's Mets game at Shea Stadium had elicited a bid of $1,010.

A spokeswoman at Yahoo!, who spoke on the condition she not be identified, said staff members were beginning a review of playoff ticket ads as a result of the phone call from MSNBC.com and would remove any that were determined to be in violation of statutes in jurisdictions where the games are being played.

Yahoo's terms of service agreement that all sellers and buyers agree to abide by clearly states that sales of any illegal items or services are forbidden, she said.

While the auction sites were making things somewhat difficult for online scalpers, there was no evidence that the restrictions were driving buyers and sellers to Internet news groups.

A check on Deja.com on Tuesday revealed only a few recent postings from sellers with playoff tickets, including one from a heart-broken fan who said he paid $90 for tickets only to have his girlfriend break up with him.

"Tim," a seller seeking $300 for a pair of tickets to Game 3 of the American League Championship Series in Seattle, said the response to his post had been less than overwhelming.

"I haven't had a call since I put them up yesterday morning," he said after learning he was talking to a reporter. "I was hoping you were a customer to tell the truth."