James Dolan, the CEO of Madison Square Garden Entertainment, won a round in his battle to use facial recognition technology to ban lawyers who are suing MSG-owned entities from going to games or concerts.
An appeals court in New York on March 28 lifted a preliminary injunction against Madison Square Garden that had temporarily stopped if from using what is essentially a facial-recognition-assisted “lawyer ban” at their entertainment venues. Dolan has vigorously defended the policy in recent months, at one point threatening to ban alcohol at Rangers games–as well as comparing investigators to characters from “The Godfather” in response to authorities looking into his use of facial recognition tech--and potentially seeing if the ban violated the NY State liquor regulations.
Knicks fanatic and lawyer Larry Hutcher had been among the first lawyers banned from MSG venues in September after his firm represented ticket resellers suing the company, and he further sued MSG seeking to undo the ban. In an initial ruling, a judge in Manhattan sided with Hutcher, noting that state law mandates venues to admit anybody who is old enough and “behaves appropriately.” However, the language of the appeals court ruling indicates that individuals refused tickets to theatrical performances or concerts–such as Hutcher–can hold MSG liable for $500, while still remaining on the ban list for the Garden. Reached for comment, a MSG Entertainment spokesperson said that “we are very pleased with the appellate ruling.”
New York State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, a vociferous critic of Dolan and his use of facial-recognition tech, said in an interview with Straus News that the ban was “fundamentally an issue of public accommodation law.” Hoylman-Sigal recently introduced a bill with NY State Senator Liz Krueger and NY Assembly Member Tony Simone to close what he calls the “sporting events loophole” of a law that prohibits “wrongful refusal of admission” of patrons with a valid ticket to “places of public entertainment or amusement.” He is trying to expand an existing law that was enacted decades ago when Broadway theaters tried to restrict reviewers who were critical of their plays. But that protection did not incorporate sporting venues in the law at that time.
Hoylman-Sigal responded to the appeals court ruling by reiterating that “we have to pass our legislation. It makes no sense that Madison Square Garden can screen fans and prevent them from entering simply because they think they may have a business or legal interest in opposition to the corporate interest of the company.”
Furthermore, at the request of Hoylman-Sigal, the NYC Independent Budget Office released a report on Wednesday that estimates that MSG maintains at least a $42 million property tax waiver. However, it pointed out that the waiver is probably worth far more than that given it was reassessed for property taxes based on the current value of the arena.
Hoylman-Sigal supports a measure currently included in the Senate One-House budget proposals that would end the property tax exemption and funnel that money towards shoring up the money bleeding from the MTA. “I think it’s incumbent on Madison Square Garden, which sits on top of the busiest train hub in the western hemisphere, to pay their fair share towards upkeep of our mass transit system and refurbishing Penn Station,” he said. Emphasizing that since Dolan isn’t actually threatening to relocate MSG from NYC, he thinks that “we’re throwing away good money that could be used to fix New York City’s infrastructure.”