Arbitration set to begin in dispute between Senecas, state
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NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — "We've waited a long time for the arbitration panel to be announced," Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said.
Wednesday afternoon, that wait was over. After a more than two-year dispute between New York State and the Seneca Nation of Indians, a panel was finally set to help decide the fate of more than $450 million of casino revenue.
"The compact requires this panel to arbitrate this dispute in case it can't be negotiated,” Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter said. “So, we're ready to go."
The three person panel consists of University of Arkansas Law School Dean and Professor Stacy Leeds, chosen by the Senecas, and attorney Henry Gutman, chosen by the state. The pair in turn chose former State Court of Appeals Judge Judith Kaye to chair the panel.
"She's a fair judge, and so we're optimistic that she'll be a fair decision maker over this arbitration," Porter said.
A decision both sides hope is made in their favor.
"Our hope and our expectation is that the position of the state is going to be vindicated in that and that the state will be paid the full amount, and will then pay us the full amount that we believe we're owed," Dyster said.
That's about $58 million in lost revenue the city is hoping to recover if arbitration talks rule in the state's favor. If the panel decides the state violated a 14-county exclusivity compact with the Seneca Nation, the city could end up with nothing.
"It would be up to our council to decide what, if anything, what would be paid to the local governments,” Porter said. “The nation has no legal obligation under the compact to pay the local governments, that's the obligation of the state."
In fact, Porter said no funds would be released by the nation until after the arbitration process, something the city is preparing for as it approves their 2013 budget and tries to navigate future relations with the nation.
"I for one, would feel better if we could have one last go at a negotiated settlement and maybe have a situation where the two sides shook hands and came away each knowing that their vital interests going forward were protected,” Dyster said.
The panel is set to begin the process next month.