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Madison Square Garden exec says arena reopening ‘earlier than expected’

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Madison Square Garden exec says arena reopening 'earlier than expected'

Madison Square Garden was surprised that Gov. Andrew Cuomo opened New York Knicks and Rangers games to fans so soon, President Andy Lustgarten said Friday.

Gov. Cuomo announced Wednesday that local arenas could open to 10 percent capacity, or about 2,000 people at Madison Square Garden, this month. The Knicks will have their first game in front of fans on Feb. 23 when they play the Golden State Warriors.

“This was earlier than we had expected,” Lustgarten told analysts on a Friday earnings call.

A week earlier, Lustgarten had said on an earnings call for Madison Square Garden Sports, owner of the Knicks and Rangers, that he was encouraged that wedding receptions and parties could increase their capacity to 150 people in March.

To some observers, that looked like an indication that the company believed approval for fans to return to games was still a month away. One MSG analyst on background said it had not been clear when fans would be allowed back.

“We think this is the right time to welcome back fans,” Lustgarten said.

Fans will need to provide proof that they got a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the event, and temperature checks will be taken at the entrance, MSG execs said Friday.
Face masks will be required and social distancing also will be imposed.

MSG also said there will be limited types of food for sale, and no eating in the hallways. After the call, MSG declined to elaborate on what types of food would be available, saying details would be coming soon.

“We are on a path to continue to increase capacity,” Lustgarten said, hoping attendance will grow beyond 10 percent before the basketball and hockey seasons end.

On Friday, Madison Square Garden Entertainment confirmed that the state ban on fans attending sporting events has devastated its finances of late. The company said it lost $64 million in the quarter, compared to earning $109 million in the same period last year.

The sports and entertainment powerhouse headed by James Dolan said it has $1.45 billion in cash and short-term investments.

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Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak wants to build crypto-run private desert cities

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Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak wants to build crypto-run private desert cities

Nevada, the state of legalized gambling, prostitution and marijuana, is about to add another layer to its Wild West reputation: Desert cities formed by companies and run entirely on blockchain technology.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak held a press conference on Friday to lay out his futuristic plan to open “Innovation Zones” on thousands of acres of privately owned desert that would allow private corporations specializing in emerging technology to form local governments complete with the right to impose taxes and create school districts or even courts.

It was Sisolak’s most detailed discussion of the plan, which has not yet been introduced to the legislature. He said the cities would be run entirely on blockchain technology, the digital ledger primarily used to transfer cryptocurrencies, allowing residents to buy goods, pay bills, transfer property deeds and obtain marriage licenses all using cyber coins. 

One big winner would be Jeffrey Berns, the founder and CEO Blockchains LLC, who purchased almost 70,000 acres of Nevada desert east of Reno in 2018 and said he wants to found a blockchain-based community.

Elon Musk’s massive Tesla battery gigafactory is also located in the same county as Berns’ recent landgrab. While there’s no indication billionaire electric car tycoon wants in on the plan, he would seem to be an ideal candidate given Tesla’s surprise and market-moving $1.5 billion investment in Bitcoin earlier this month.

Of course, for Tesla to build its own autonomous zone, Musk would need to add almost 48,000 acres to meet the 50,000 acres of contiguous, uninhabited land required for a company to meet the rules of the proposed legislation. The rules would also require a $1 billion investment over 10 years.

During a Friday afternoon press conference addressing the plan, Sissolak said Nevada needs a bold new vision to recover from the ravages of the pandemic on the state’s tourism-centric economy.

“This is different than anything that’s ever been proposed before,” he said, hammering home the vision of interconnected modern communities bringing jobs and commerce to unused land. “Companies can collaborate on a future together that would make Nevada not just a national but global leader in Blockchain technology.

While short on some details, like how a so-called Stablecoin would be designed to facilitate a fully Blockchain economy within a US state, and who would pay for roads in and out of what would be essentially private cities, the governor asked Nevadans to think big.

“There’s gonna be a lot of naysayers,” he said at the end of the presser. “I get that, but take a moment to look at the proposal.”

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United Airlines to pay $49.5M to settle mail contract probe

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United Airlines to pay $49.5M to settle mail contract probe

United Airlines agreed to pay $49.5 million to resolve criminal charges and civil claims relating to fraud on Postal Service contracts for transportation of international mail, the US Justice Department said Friday.

“United defrauded the US Postal Service by providing falsified parcel delivery information over a period of years and accepting millions of dollars of payments to which the company was not entitled,” the Justice Department’s acting criminal division chief Nicholas L. McQuaid said.

United did not immediately comment.

The Justice Department said between 2012 and 2015, United defrauded the US Postal Service (USPS) by submitting false delivery scan data. The government said United submitted automated delivery scans based on aspirational delivery times. The government said some individuals at United sought “to hide the automation practices included efforts to revise the falsified delivery times to make the automated scans appear less suspicious to USPS.”

United agreed to strengthen its compliance program and to submit yearly reports to the Justice Department detailing the status of remediation and implementation of United’s compliance program and internal controls.

The government cited United’s prior history, including a 2016 non-prosecution agreement relating to potential criminal bribery violations arising out of United’s establishment and operation of a non-stop route between NJ’s Newark Liberty International Airport and Columbia Metropolitan Airport in South Carolina.

In 2019, American Airlines, paid $22.1 million to settle claims it falsely reported the times it transferred possession of US mail to foreign postal administrations or other intended recipients, the Justice Department said.

USPS contracted with American to take possession of receptacles of US mail at six locations and then deliver it to numerous international and domestic destinations. The settlement resolves claims American Airlines falsely reported the times it transferred possession of the mail. American did not immediately comment.

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Bill Ackman tells investors to follow him on Twitter

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Bill Ackman tells investors to follow him on Twitter

Billionaire Bill Ackman appears to be taking a page from Elon Musk with plans to start announcing market-moving news on Twitter.

The billionaire investor’s blank check company, Pershing Square Tontine Holdings, issued a press release on Friday highlighting Ackman’s Twitter feed and saying it may be used as a venue for official announcements.

“Investors should follow this account for information about the company,” the release said.

Ackman’s #FollowFriday campaign comes as retail traders wage their second campaign on “meme stocks” like GameStop, prizing sentiment and social media posts over fundamentals and pumping so-called “stonks” unloved by mainstream Wall Street investors.

Ackman was up late Thursday night engaging with Twitter users who asked him about a second Pershing Square blank check company, aslo known as a SPAC. His terse answers thrilled some followers who seemed to read into the ambiguous responses.

When asked if investors in the first SPAC could be given priority to invest in the second, Ackman tweeted “We have the technology” leading users on Twitter and Reddit to proclaim that Ackman was about to acquire payment platforms Stripe, Plaid, or even trading app Robinhood, with dozens of users posting that Ackman’s tweets indicate he would announce a merger on Friday, on Twitter.

Despite Ackman appearing to have gained more than 1,000 new followers in a matter of hours, shares in Pershing Square Tontine were trading slightly down at midday after spiking in early trading.

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