1. Regardless of the lottery, this year has NOTHING to do with last year. Anyone who thinks that this year's ticket sales would have worked "the same" as last year's (lottery or not) is smoking crack. The problem this year was caused NOT by the lottery (although that didn't help in any way shape or form) but by the simple fact that last year's event sold out which brought out the profiteers for this year's event, chomping at the bit to make a ton off of the Burning Man masses. Last year, that wasn't part of the equation and though 27,000 tickets sold in the first day, the rest just piddled along for about 4 months before the sellout ultimately happened. This year, lottery or not, the event would have sold every available ticket with a few days if not a few hours (assuming the ticketing system didn't crumble). By the way, I am surprised that the ticketing systems have been so weak for BM... I worked for Walmart.com at one time and we processed 10s of thousands of orders in a single hour during holiday, and I know of relatively small ticketing companies that process hundreds of thousands of tickets every week for a variety of events... Selling 50,000 tickets is not a HUGE problem... it just takes some technical acumen to deal with...
2. Scalpers are CLEARLY a serious problem and this year it will become much clearer that that is true. I expect STEP to work, but it won't solve the problem of thousands of tickets in the hands of scalpers (who have no reason at all to use STEP, after all there are no laws in California about scalping) and these tickets are going to show up on CL, Ebay, StubHub and elsewhere at radically inflated prices... If people ultimately feel they HAVE to go to BM, they will spend the cash and the scalpers will be encouraged. Ignoring the naivete of those who say "simplify the system" and don't want non-transferable tickets, that is the ONLY solution to this problem. Any other attempt will simply fail as the scalpers see the $$$ that they can make. And judging from the number of "Burning Man Cruise" camps that were out in force last year (with ticket prices ranging from a few thousand dollars to upwards of $30,000 for a ticket) there are PLENTY of people willing to pay inflated prices to go get really dusty for a week and watch a bunch of people run around naked in the desert. Of course, this begs the question of what happens when all (or a lot of) the things they are paying to see disappear because the poor schlubs who MADE the event what it is can't get tickets. What's that old stock market saying? Bulls make money and bears make money, but pigs usually make nothing. We shall see. (Realworldpolitik aside: this is just a microcosm of what will see in our real economy as the rich get REALLY rich and the middle class becomes poor, and the rich have no one to buy their products... just sayin'...)
3. 50,000 tickets plus a "negligible" number of volunteer/staff/artist tickets? What are YOU smoking?
I want some! There are most likely upwards of 5,000-7,000 free tickets distributed by BM for "volunteers/staff/artists". All of the regionals get tickets for their organizers, all the major art projects get fairly large numbers of tickets, anyone who volunteers 20+ hours last year (and that had to be several thousand people, between the Gate and DMV and DPW and Rangers and Lamplighters and everyone else) gets a discount ticket that hasn't even been accounted for, plus if you volunteered more, you get a free ticket. BM's paid staff is also big. There were many thousands of people at the event early last year and many of them were on free tickets or volunteer discount tickets, all of which are outside the "main ticket sale". This is not negligible.
4. The size 'cap" on the event is definitely regulated by BLM and while "we could easily grow to 75,000" I doubt BLM is ready to just let that happen overnight. The impact on the playa is a significant issue and while we love having fun one weekend a year, the BLM has a bigger agenda, trying to make sure the environment is there for others to enjoy for many years to come. I believe there were close to 60,000 on-playa last year between sold tickets and volunteers/staff/others... That number will go up this year, and the public sales tickets of 53,000 (3,000 presale, 40,000 main lottery sales and 10,000 late open sales) reflects that.
5. The best idea I have heard about doing non-transferable tickets came from one of the long-time Burning Man folks, Malderor (Steve Courtney) proprietor of Fandango for many many years going back to the early 90s. He suggested using tickets with photos and names printed on them (he said this is done at Glastonberry which I assume is a concert/festival of some sort, sorry for my ignorance). That woudl be a great idea, but I would take it into the 21st century and instead use iPads (like we did at DMV last year). When you buy your ticket, you have to submit a photo (Drivers' License, passport, your dating site pic, whatever). That would be entered into a database with your ticket number(s). You could buy 2 (or 4) tickets associated with your photo (no need to get photos from everyone in your group). Tickets are NOT TRANSFERABLE AT ALL and photos can not be updated at all. You can return your tickets to BM for a refund less a handling fee, but you can't designate a new ticket owner (this is to stop scalpers - it may hurt a few people, like those who have medical emergencies at the last minute, and maybe there can be some exceptions for provable cases like that, but not for just deciding to turn your tickets over to someone else). At the gate, your ticket is scanned (they already do this) and it pops up your photo on the iPad that each Gate person would use. This takes NO EXTRA TIME from current approach. The person in the photo has to be in the car with the tickets. Others with his/her group of tickets don't need photos.
The point is, scalpers don't attend events, they just sell tickets. This precludes almost any scalping and the cost is negligible in both time and money. Bringing up a photo from a database of 50,000 (or less because you only need a photo for, say, every 1.7 tickets
, takes almost no time these days. That is a trivially small database compared to some I work with in my job. The whole thing could be stored in memory on a very fast server and would provide virtually instantaneous response (unfortunately I would NOT ever use Apple or Filemaker Pro as they did with DMV, that is way too slow, I would use something else). You can still bring "unidentified guests" but you have to be with them (or if you arrive early, you have to come to the gate when they arrive). Its a LITTLE bit more complicated and a LITTLE bit annoying for some, but for the vast majority, this would be easy to deal with, and would completely eliminate scalping. This would probably have put 10-15,000 tickets back into circulation during this past lottery or ticket sales.
The lottery itself would have been much fairer if ONLY REAL BURNING MAN TICKET BUYERS were involved. Then I think the lottery would have been reasonably successful. Some people still wouldn't have gotten tickets, but that number would be much smaller than the 50-70% numbers I have been hearing about.
This needs to be fixed and I think this is the only approach that stands a chance.