- The Washington Times - Friday, March 27, 2009

The hottest free ticket in town is starting to get expensive.

After the Obama White House distributed tickets to the annual Easter Egg Roll online Thursday, a group of six tickets apparently sold on eBay for nearly $1,000, while dozens of people seeking tickets posted ads elsewhere offering everything from Redskins seats to a professional photo shoot for a chance to go to the April 13 event.

One parent, Leticia Barr, said she thought it was a “brilliant idea” when the White House decided to give out free tickets to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll online. But then she saw that some tickets were being sold by an online auction house — and now she’s not so sure.

“Like so many parents in the D.C. area, I thought about camping out in past years [to get tickets]. And this year, when I heard they were giving the tickets out online, I was happy they made the move,” Ms. Barr said in a telephone interview. “But it’s unfortunate that people would profit from an event that’s supposed to be free and available to the public.”

The White House started distributing tickets online Thursday for the annual event. In previous years, people had to stand in line to get tickets. By evening Thursday, tickets were distributed to people in 41 states, though many parents complained that the the online ticket distribution system had crashed.

Semonti M. Mustaphi, deputy press secretary for First Lady Michelle Obama, said Friday officials were working with online sellers to prevent such scalping.

“We monitor Web sites that facilitate third party sales to ensure that tickets to White House functions are used properly,” she said. “Companies are cooperating and sales of the tickets will not be valid.”

According to the White House, the tickets also are bar-coded and have a name printed on them so they can’t be duplicated. Officials also say they’re separately giving out tickets to D.C. school children and military families.

Still, a link on the eBay web site notes that two adult tickets and four children’s tickets sold for $979.99 on Thursday afternoon. The same seller was also offering tickets to a Dave Matthews concert and had recently sold basketball and baseball game tickets.

“The White House has always structured the Easter Egg Hunt as a free event and we believe its in the spirit of the holiday that these tickets not be sold; we will be removing any tickets listed on eBay,” said company spokeswoman Karen Bard.

On the web site craigslist.org, would-be attendees offered all sorts of deals to anyone willing to give up their prized White House tickets.

One ad offered two regular-season Redskins tickets (no parking) for two adult and two childrens Egg Roll tickets. Another person offered to provide free consultation for a solar hot water system installation in exchange for tickets.