05/31/2004 12:00AM

For online shoppers, it's buyer beware


Belmont Park has sold all of its 30,500 reserved-seat tickets for the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, when Smarty Jones will attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. Some of those seats, however, may have been sold more than once.

On dozens of online ticket-broker sites, and on the popular Internet auction site eBay, hundreds of tickets to the Belmont are being offered for sale, and many are being priced well above statutory limits in New York on resold tickets.

Many tickets are being offered at prices that amount to a 1,000-percent markup over face value. In several instances, sellers on eBay have posted minimum bids for two clubhouse passes at prices at or exceeding $99 - for passes that can be bought by anyone with $5 on Saturday just by walking up to the gate.

The secondary market for the tickets has upset Belmont Park officials, who have deliberately kept grandstand and clubhouse admission prices dirt-cheap compared with other high-profile sporting events. Unlimited grandstand and clubhouse admissions will be available Saturday for only $2 and $5, respectively. Belmont officials say the track will not turn anyone away.

"It's really disappointing, but I think it's part of the culture of our society that these things find their way on to eBay," said Nader. "We try to keep prices down and affordable. Yet you look at these things and you wonder."

The $2 grandstand and $5 clubhouse admission prices compare with $40 for general admission to the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and at least $15 to see the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in Maryland. On the flip side of the coin, the cheapest ticket for the 2004 Super Bowl was $500.

Most online ticket brokers were offering identical tickets, indicating that individual sellers have posted their tickets on multiple sites. Prices as of Monday afternoon ranged from $3,990 for a ticket in the backyard festival tent to $85 for a temporary bleacher seat that had already been sold for $15.

Under anti-scalping laws, it is illegal in New York to sell a ticket to a sporting event that is marked up more than 10 percent above the ticket's face value or $5, whichever is greater. But that regulation only applies to New York residents, so online brokers offer the tickets for sale to out-of-state residents for full price while limiting New York customers to the legal markup limit.

On eBay, 113 items had been posted under the search term "Belmont Stakes tickets" on Monday afternoon. One of those offerings was for two clubhouse passes with a $99 reserve. The lister, who goes by the handle "iselllotsofstuff," had a 96 out of 100 seller rating.

For those who don't like to bother with auctions, iselllotsofstuff would instantly part with his clubhouse passes for $175 under eBay's "Buy It Now" program, which allows any bidder to sidestep the auction market at a price set by the seller.

A person who identified himself as the seller refused to provide his full name when contacted by telephone Monday. He said he thought Belmont announced two weeks ago that the track had stopped selling clubhouse admissions.

Iselllotsofstuff had no takers for his illogical listing. But he was not the only seller with bait on the hook. A two-pass offering to get into Belmont's "exclusive clubhouse" was listed by "ticketsofamerica" at a "Buy It Now" price of $240 and no minimum. It had attracted two bids as of Monday afternoon, with 24 hours to go. The top bid was $2.25.