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Service charges, discounters fuel rise in Las Vegas ticket prices

Las Vegas ticket prices are so messed up that Hannibal Buress did a comedy routine about them in his last stand-up special.

Buress, who was set to play the House of Blues over the weekend, does a bit in the first few minutes of “Live from Chicago” about $90 tickets to see Eddie Griffin at the Rio.

“That’s a lot of money for a comedy show,” he says in the routine, joking about how the price would put “pressure on my head … He’s good. I don’t know about 90 dollars good.”

Buress had a solution: Call and pretend to be his own agent to get himself in free as a celebrity.

For civilians who aren’t trying to come up with a stand-up routine, I looked into several ways to buy a general admission ticket for Griffin. The cheapest for one of last week’s shows was $48.38 — much less likely to put pressure on your head. To get that, you had to visit a Tix4Tonight outlet in person.

The most expensive, oddly enough, was right there at the Rio: $79.95.

So much for the widely held belief that buying a ticket on site where the show is held will save you extra handling fees.

“Service fees have gone out of control,” one producer says, “and this is not passed back to the artist at all.”

If you wanted to buy a Griffin ticket online, discounter Goldstar was your best choice. A $48.75 ticket plus a $7.25 fee came to $56. Vegas.com had one for $71.30 plus a $7.95 service charge to total $79.25. Ticketmaster added an $8.75 fee to a $72.55 ticket to get to $81.30.

If you’re really old-school and want to order your tickets over the phone, you can be hit with still another fee.

Since I was at the Rio, I checked the hotel’s big stars, Penn &Teller. Pretty much the same story. At the Rio’s box office, Penn &Teller tickets were $92.25, $105.75 and $116.75. The good news is the box office shows you these all-in prices in big writing on a seating chart, so you won’t tweak when it comes time to ring up the sale.

Why would you get mad? Officially, those Penn &Teller base prices are $75, $85 and $95. A modest proposal here: What if it became standard practice that if you buy on site, where the show is held, you don’t pay the add-ons? That’s what The Smith Center for the Performing Arts does for walk-up sales.

But “walk-up” is a funny term for the pedestrian-challenged Smith Center. Inside a busy casino, the revenue from service fees must outweigh the action they end up sending to third-party discounters. I’m told service fees have come to the attention of state gaming commissioners as a taxable revenue source.

At Tix4Tonight that same day, some Penn &Teller tickets were $63 (billed as a 40 percent discount). But there is an extra step of inconvenience, because you are actually buying a voucher that you trade for real tickets. Vegas.com had one for $69.33 ($59.38 plus a $9.95 service fee), or a better one for $114.20 ($104.25 plus $9.95). Goldstar could get you into Penn &Teller for $67.50 ($56.25 plus an $8.25 service fee plus a $3 agency fee.)

You don’t have to be as funny as Buress to find the humor in the drag show “Divas Las Vegas” having a face-value range of $88.94-$113.44 (Ticketmaster, after fees).

“I mean who ever thought we’d see an impersonator production, female or otherwise, with a $100 ticket?” writes Anthony Curtis of the Las Vegas Advisor.

Curtis has tried the nearly impossible task of averaging Las Vegas ticket prices for the past 24 years. This year, he says, prices have gone up for the 19th time. The average price is $85.20, an increase of $2.34.

Curtis crunched the numbers for 89 shows, leaving out visiting concert stars. He found less change in “high-end” shows such as “Le Reve” and “Jersey Boys” than in the “middle market,” where modest $5 to $10 price increases made the average creep.

And he is quick to note that almost every show is discounted. I have written before of the unintended consequences of Tix4Tonight becoming so convenient — with 10 locations — that it’s hard not to see them as the primary box office for many a middle-market title.

Looking at their scroll of titles, the pricing makes a lot more sense for “Divas” at $58 and $64. Wouldn’t two other tribute shows — “Legends in Concert” and “Hitzville” — be better off if they just made their Tix4Tonight price ($40 and $36, respectively) the real price?

If I believe that could happen — or that you shouldn’t have to pay a handling fee if you buy the ticket a few feet away from the showroom doors — then maybe I’m so funny, Buress should hire me as his opening act.

Read more from Mike Weatherford at bestoflasvegas.com. Contact him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com.

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