ALBANY - Now the clock is really ticking.
The Cuomo administration and Seneca Nation of Indians today agreed on the membership of an arbitration panel to decide its years' old dispute involving more than $400 million in stalled casino payments the state says the tribe has wrongfully halted.
The dispute, which goes back to the administration of former Gov. David Paterson, has left local host communities that get a share of the casino revenue proceeds, particularly Niagara Falls and Salamanca, cutting services and staff to make up for the interrupted flow of money.
The three-member panel will determine whether the state, as the tribe alleges, violated the terms of a 2002 casino compact by allowing in new forms of gambling the Senecas say are barred from a large Western New York exclusivity zone.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo picked Henry Gutman, a Manhattan lawyer and big-time Democratic Party contributor, who has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Cuomo and other New York Democrats in recent years. The Seneca Nation tapped University of Arkansas Law School Dean Stacy Leeds.
The third panelist, selected by both sides, will be Judith Kaye, the former chief judge of the state's highest court. She will serve as the panel's chair. Kaye was selected for the Court of Appeals by the governor's father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and Andrew Cuomo, while he was attorney general, tapped Kaye as an independent counsel to investigate several controversial allegations involving the Paterson administration, including allegations of domestic abuse involving a close advisor to Paterson.
The tribe has already held up $460 million in payments due to the state, which in turn shares part of the proceeds with the three host communities in Western New York that are home to the Seneca Nation's casinos. Among its allegations, the tribe claims the state breached the terms of its exclusivity deal by permitting new forms of gambling at racetrack-based casinos.
The panel's decision in the matter will be binding.
The Seneca Nation's choice for the panel is considered an expert on Indian law and other legal areas. She is also a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Indians and the first Native American to serve as dean of a law school, the tribe said.