ALBANY - Now the clock is really ticking.
The Cuomo administration and Seneca Nation of Indians Wednesday agreed on the membership of an arbitration panel to decide their dispute over casino exclusivity and whether the Senecas wrongfully halted $460 million in casino payments to the state and three host communities.
The panel has no firm deadline for acting and will set its own schedule, but sources close to the talks said they expect a decision by the end of the year or early in 2013.
Among its allegations, the tribe claims the state breached the terms of its exclusivity deal by permitting gambling at racetrack-based casinos.
The panel's decision in the matter will be binding.
Niagara Falls and Salamanca have been particularly hard hit by the loss of casino money and have had to cut services and staff.
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 area of Western New York.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo selected 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. She 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.
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 chairwoman. Kaye was chosen 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 gubernatorial adviser.