New Burning Man Lottery Closes, Leaving Many Concerned

The Bottleneck of the Burning Man Lottery
Many feel that the lottery reduces the individualization and radical-self reliance of the Burning Man community.

[T]he main lottery sale for 2012 Burning Man tickets has officially closed. Although 40,000 tickets have been sold, there are many burners who were not chosen in the new lottery system. The backlash to the lottery system began before the system was even fully in place but now thousands of long time Burning Man participants are without tickets. Social media sites are exploding with comments and status updates from frustrated, unlucky burners desperate to find tickets. A Burning Man Lottery Recall Petition has also been started to formally ask the Burning Man board to modify the lottery system and has seven specific requests for an augmented structure for ticketing at future events. The petition has over 800 signatures and is currently aiming for a 1,000 signature goal. Now that both pre-sale and main lottery are finished, the only direct option left is the Secondary Open Sale which will give out 10,000 tickets for $390 plus shipping and handling. The Secondary Open Sale starts on March 28th at noon (Pacific Standard Time) and is first come, first serve.

On January 27th, Burning Man posted on the Burning Blog, obviously anticipating the current unrest of burners who did not receive tickets. According to the post, the number of requested tickets this year was higher than ever before. The uncertainty of the lottery seems to have caused many burners to request more tickets than needed and to have family, friends and campmates order tickets to increase their chances of winning. The Burning Blog post attempted to assuage fears, “So the unfortunate net result is that there will be a lot of people who aren’t awarded tickets from the Main Sale … BUT DO NOT FEAR!! Because this means that there will be a large number of tickets in circulation within the existing community, tickets that simply need to be redistributed to those who need them. Based on our analysis, we hold a strong belief that things will settle out over the course of time, once that redistribution takes place, such that most everybody who wants a ticket will find their way to one.”

Burning Man is implementing the Secure Ticket Exchange Program (STEP), which will be a web-based, secure way for burners to both sell and buy Burning Man tickets. STEP will be live on the web on February 22nd.  Unfortunately, both STEP and Secondary Open Sales are several weeks away leaving many burners to wait in both uncertainty and hope.

Aside from the obviously discouraging aspects of the lottery,such as the many tickets currently being sold on Ebay and StubHub for over $600 dollars, the lack of tickets has even greater implications to the community as a whole. Many artists, art car captains, and theme camp organizers are without tickets which makes planning and building very difficult. The countless hours of work and passion poured into projects for the Burn are less likely to happen when many aren’t even sure if they will be able to attend. One Portland based burner collective, The Clock Ship Tere Crew, who created the C.S. Tere Pirate Ship art car, didn’t receive any tickets in the main lottery. The captain of the C.S. Tere,  Andy Tibbetts, had an especially interesting perspective on the lottery results. “I’m not worried about getting a ticket; I have a lot of friends and a good community and things will work out…. But while I am looking for that ticket, I won’t be working on artwork, I won’t be holding weekly meetings at my shop with other campmates. The sad thing is with an additional surge of tickets being offered in March and physical tickets not being sent out until much later, that is 3-5 months wasted from the build season. A lot of us feel this way, and the art once again will suffer, which is why both those that got their ticket and those left in Limbo should be upset.

The new lottery system is also discouraging for first time burners who have finally gained the financial resources and individual calling to finally attend Burning Man. First time burner Ivan Fokin was especially disheartened by his rejection letter. “I worked on Burning Man projects for hundreds of hours last year, but could not go to the burn. My dreams of going this year, for the first time, were dashed at 2:37pm  2.1.12, when I opened the email telling me I didn’t win. It seems to me that rewarding the individuals with more resources (multiple credit cards, entering a dozen times), goes against the little I’ve learned regarding the burn.”

Those that have been in the community for several years and have frequented Burning Man multiple times are equally frustrated by the lottery. Alfred Werner, who is actively involved with Burners Without Borders, has been going to Burning Man since 2005.  In 2011, Alfred sent Project Thunderstick to Japan in an effort to assist with Tsunami relief. Photos of Project Thunderstick were on display at Burning Man 2011 on the Esplanade as “an example of what great people we are.” Alfred did not apply for the lottery this year. Alfred explains his decision in his own words, ” I didn’t do the lottery for two reasons. First, I sat in the queue last year only to have my browser crash (tier 2 or so). Also the mantra has consistently been that if you can afford a higher price ticket you should wait. I did. Does that mean I can’t go?”

The true answer to the uncertainty of the lottery comes down to Communal Effort. As stated in the Burning Blog, “…it’s up to all of us to decide how this all plays out … we can work together in our communities to ensure that most everybody who wants a ticket to Burning Man can get one, and avoid falling prey to third-party price gouging. Just as we’re able to create the world’s largest Leave No Trace event — against all odds, in the middle of the remote desert — we can see this challenge through together as well.” Let’s all come together as a community to ensure that everyone who truly wants to attend Burning Man 2012 will be able to come home to the playa.


Update: An independent survey was started by Rich “Isopop” Porter in an effort to track ticket sales. What did happen to all those tickets? Take the survey and keep your eyes peeled for the results. The results of the survey as of 1:15pm, February 2nd, 2012 have been posted. The survey is still open and hopefully the results will be updated to reflect the new participants and give more accurate numbers.

3 Responses to “New Burning Man Lottery Closes, Leaving Many Concerned”
  1. The Architech

    The issue of the scalpers is a pretty big one. I don’t think non-transferable tickets are the answer, because it’s hard to commit to something 7 months away. I feel like there has to be a way for them to make the tickets only exchangeable through their website or whatever this STEP thing ends up being. Burners are such ingenious people, they should’ve crowd-sourced the solution.

    • I agree, an ONLY TRANSFERABLE THROUGH S.T.E.P. TICKET would be airtight.
      Good read.. It is nice to hear a positive view on all this chaos… Thank you.

      Maybe there will be an art grant to buy tickets back from the scalpers, with gorgeous counterfeit cash… ??


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