09/22/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Despite Threats of Detention, Ticket Scalping Continues at Beijing's Subway Stations

I wrote the other day that despite rumors of sold out Olympic sporting events, tickets are still available (albeit sporadically) at Well today I discovered another hotbed of ticket selling -- or should I say scalping -- where you can buy top tickets if you're willing to gamble and pay.

Today, dozens of scalpers stood alone or in pairs inside the underground tunnel leading out of Subway Line 10 and to the Olympic Green Line. Some held signs asking to buy tickets, but most were looking to sell.

I hung around for about 20 minutes to find out what was on the market and for how much. My inquiries revealed the following:

1. Track and field for 8/20: now at 4,000 RMB each. I think I heard the seller quote the same price to a Chinese passerby, though it may have been 4,000 for two. Eventually she went down to 3,000 RMB each.
2. Track and field finals: originally priced 400 RMB each, now 1,500 RMB each.
3. Soccer finals: 3000 RMB for one.
4. Australia-USA men's basketball quarterfinals: 4,000 RMB for one.
5. Men's basketball finals: 15,000 RMB for one.

Events like handball and softball are cheaper -- 200 RMB and 400 RMB respectively. But the handball tickets, which I closely inspected, comparing them to the track and field tickets I used on Saturday night, didn't look quite real to me. The text placement was slightly askew, the paper looked thinner and shinier, and the red and orange ink appeared subtly darker.

Technically, the government prohibits such illegal selling. A Xinhua article published on August 18 reported that police arrested 276 ticket scalpers--including 37 foreigners -- for reselling tickets at up to 100 times the face value, the penalties being fines and detention:

"Police also confiscated 613 Games tickets in the latest crackdown on scalpers that started on Aug. 15...In one case, an Italian was detained by police on Aug. 15 near the "Bird's Nest" for attempting to scalp two tickets. Each had a face value of 300 RMB (43.65 US dollars), but the man planned to resell them at 1,000 RMB each... He confessed he had purchased about 130 Olympic tickets in his country through various channels and had resold half in China."

What struck me most at Subway Line 10 was that despite these recent crackdowns, five or six security guards loitered quietly at the top of the escalator leading out of the underground passage. They made no attempt to chase the scalpers away.

Today, a young Chinese woman tries to resell two tickets to the men's 200-meter track finals for 1,250 RMB each. She says she really wants to go but must return home to Jiangxi Province early tomorrow. She bought the tickets for 400 RMB apiece. To my naked eyes they look real, but I'm no expert.

Many people in transit stop to look. They crowd the scalpers, eager to know what's being sold and for how much. But so far, no one's betting.