Despite the risks, touts are still in the game
The tout at the other end of the phone line, who identified himself only as Mr Chen, was persuasive in his response to questions about the price of a ticket to a women's volleyball session in the Beijing Olympics on August 21.
'The original price was 200 yuan [HK$228], and I'm asking for only 1,500 yuan, which is not the tenfold price that other sellers would ask for some other tickets. If you really want to buy, we can meet to negotiate a bit,' the man said.
Mr Chen's adverts - posted on 263.com, a major lifestyle portal on the mainland, along with his mobile-phone number - are among hundreds of such offers from scalpers hoping to profit from the last dash for Olympic tickets.
But when asked to meet for an interview, Mr Chen baulked.
'It's OK if you genuinely want to buy a ticket, but the rest is out of the question because it is a very sensitive period of time. I've got the tickets to sell, and it's up to you to draw your conclusion,' he said when prodded about whether he was a scalper.
But another tout, with more than a dozen tickets for sale on 263.com, was more candid.
'I bought the tickets as an investment,' said the man, who gave his name as Liu.
His stash included two highly sought-after tickets to the National Stadium on August 21, when reigning Olympic champion Liu Xiang is expected to defend his title in the final of the 110-metre hurdles.
Mr Liu said he would not sell the tickets, which carry a face value of 800 yuan, for less than 3,000 yuan.
The Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games said 7.2 million tickets had been available, but some - particularly for popular sports such as basketball, diving and gymnastics - were hard to get, creating a black market despite a police crackdown.
More than 60 scalpers had been detained by the end of last month, but online scalping has been rife even though many website managers were ordered to pull the ads after public ticket sales ended on July 27.
The mainland is notorious for scalping - including everything from train tickets to grocery vouchers - and many academics have questioned the heavy-handed police approach to the touts.
If found guilty, scalpers face a maximum fine of 1,000 yuan and detention of up to 15 days under national laws that address maintaining social order.
Beijing has threatened to send serious offenders to up to four years' 're-education through labour'.
Liu Zhengshan , a Beijing-based analyst, said it was perplexing that authorities punished scalpers under social-order legislation, because scalping was a market-driven phenomenon. He said scalping had also exposed flaws in the design of the Olympic ticketing system.
'If ticket buyers had been required to register their IDs to buy tickets in the first place, and any transfer of tickets were done strictly in accordance with rules, then there would be no room for scalping,' Dr Liu said.
Scalping could also be a deliberate manoeuvre to push up ticket sales, to give the impression that tickets were in short supply, he said. Shenzhen-based Jing Bao reported last month that 20 per cent of the buyers who were allocated tickets in the lottery draws chose not to go ahead with the purchases.
The number of online ads for Olympic tickets far outnumbered those from people seeking tickets, suggesting that scalpers might have to cut their asking prices and even sell the tickets below their face value.
Scalpers may do well to take a cue from the Athens Olympics. Nearly half the tickets for the 2004 Games were unsold three days before the opening ceremony. That forced organisers to cut prices, resulting in losses for many scalpers who had miscalculated ticket demand.
However, Mr Liu, the online ticket tout, said that while he might have to cut his asking prices further, he did not believe he would lose money.
'The only question is how much money I'm going to make in the end.'
The scalping of Olympic tickets on the internet has been rife despite official efforts to crack down on the practice. The number of scalpers detained by the end of last month was: 60