MSG owner James Dolan threatens alcohol ban at MSG over facial recognition controversy
NEW YORK - James Dolan is threatening to not serve fans alcohol at Madison Square Garden.
The CEO and executive chairman of MSG Entertainment Corp. made the threat in an interview on Good Day New York to discuss his controversial use of facial recognition at Madison Square Garden.
New York's attorney general warned the owner of MSG and Radio City Music Hall that it may be violating anti-bias laws with its practice of barring lawyers from its venues if they work for firms suing the company.
RELATED: MSG sued for yanking lawyer's Knicks seats
The lawyer ban came to light in October 2022 when attorney Larry Hutcher, a longtime New York Knicks season ticket holder, was told that his seats had been revoked because his law firm was representing ticket resellers that were suing MSG. He filed a lawsuit in response.
The attorney general's office said in a letter to MSG Entertainment that the ban, and the company's use of facial recognition technology to enforce it, may violate anti-discrimination laws and may dissuade lawyers from taking on cases such as sexual harassment or job discrimination claims against the company.
Facial recognition at MSG
"Well, look, facial recognition, right? It's just the technology. Right?" Dolan said. "The real issue that's going on here is our policy of not letting attorneys, right, who are suing us into, into our building until they are done, done suing us. When they're done, they're very much welcome back."
Dolan tried to claim it was the same thing as a bakery not serving someone who was suing over not liking the bread.
MSG liquor license controversy
Dolan also threatened to pick a night at Madison Square Garden, possibly a Rangers game, to shut down alcohol sales in response to the New York State Liquor Authority allegedly coming after him about his facial recognition technology.
When asked about the fans, Dolan said, "They don't care at all. I mean, we're talking about a small group of attorneys, right? The lawyers, right? Why would the Knicks fans or the Rangers fans or the concertgoers care about them? They don't. But I will tell you one thing. The SLA was way beyond their skis."
Dolan says the State Liquor Authority is being "extremely aggressive"
During the interview, Dolan held up a sign with a photo of Kabir, the CEO of the State Liquor Authority, along with his contact information. He said the signs will also ask fans to call Kabir if they want to drink at games.
"They're saying 'We're gonna take away your liquor license.' So I have a little surprise, right? Because they're basically doing this for publicity. So we're gonna give them some publicity. All right, what we're going to do, right is we're going to pick a night, right? Maybe a Rangers game, and we're going to shut down all liquor and alcohol in the building. Now, this isn't going to bother me, because I've been sober 29 years. I don't need the liquor. Right? But instead, what we're going to do is where we serve liquor, we're going to put one of these up, which says, if you would like to drink at a game, please call, right? Sharif Kabir, chief executive officer, or write him an email at this number, right? And tell him right, to stick to his knitting and, you know, and to what he's supposed to be doing and stop, stop grandstanding and trying to get press."
Related: NY bill would stop MSG from kicking out ‘enemy’ lawyers
Dolan was also asked later on in the interview if he was concerned at all.
"No. I mean, first off, let's see if if they were able to pass that particular legislation, it's completely illegal," Dolan said. "No, there's a thing, Well, in the United States, there's a thing called the Bill of Rights. In the Bill of Rights, you're allowed to, you know, your freedom of religion, you will have to own property, etc. This is just about owning property, you know, any, a bakery, right? A restaurant, right? You get to say who you serve, right? For whatever reason, I don't care if they're a lawyer, or whatever you get to say where you serve the and If there's someone you don't want to serve, you get to say I don't want to serve you. And if there's somebody who is suing you and trying to put you out of business or take your money from you, right, you have a right to be, yes a little unhappy about it."
State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal lashed out at Dolan in response to the interview.
"In his public meltdown on Fox 5 this morning, James Dolan showed why Albany should pass our legislation (S2424) and close the ‘sporting event’ loophole in our Civil Rights Law that allows Dolan to ban fans from Madison Square Garden using facial-recognition technology, simply because they work at law firms with clients he deems opposed to his financial interests."
Hoylman-Sigal called Dolan "the post child of privilege" who is receiving an annual $43 million tax break from the state.
"New York shouldn’t allow petty tyrants to impose their warped fantasies on the public while reaping millions each year from taxpayer subsidies," Hoylman-Sigal stated. "I’m grateful to both the New York State Attorney General and the Manhattan District Attorney for launching inquiries into Dolan’s vindictive business practices intended to silence his critics."
MSG restates lawyer ban policy
Hours after the interview MSG Entertainment released a statement reiterating its policy.
It stated: "Attorneys who have filed a lawsuit against MSG Entertainment are not welcome in our venues while litigation is ongoing. When the litigation is resolved, they will be welcomed back.
This includes attorneys representing ticket scalpers, personal injury claims and class action litigations, but does not include claims related to sexual harassment or employment discrimination.
MSG Entertainment is a private business, and in full compliance with all applicable laws – it is also within our right to implement and to enforce this policy, which is specific to lawyers pursuing active litigation against the Company."
The company says it has been using facial recognition since 2018 to "provide a safe and secure environment for ur customers and ourselves."
The statement continued: "It is not our intent to dissuade attorneys from representing plaintiffs in litigation against the Company. This is not an attack on lawyers. We are merely excluding a small percentage of lawyers and only during active litigation."