The struggle between Birmingham City Football Club and the NEC for the right to build Britain's first super-casino bears more than a passing resemblance to the story of the hare and the tortoise, says Chief Reporter Paul Dale...
Birmingham City, under the guidance of mercurial chief executive Karren Brady, hit the ground running months ago with a visionary scheme for a #300 million multipurpose sports stadium and gaming centre on the Wheels site at Saltley.
The 55,000-seat City of Birmingham Stadium (pictured), something that the city council had dreamt of for years, would provide a new ground for the Blues, could stage international cricket and rugby, and would be suitable for major athletics events.
The driving force behind this, providing the financial impetus, would be the millions of pounds of revenue flowing from a huge casino offering 40 gaming tables and unlimited cash prizes ? if the Government gave Birmingham the nod as the location for the first super-casino.
But the stadium would never be delivered, Ms Brady made clear, if the council failed to back the club?s tie-up with American casino operators Las Vegas Sands.
For weeks it seemed to onlookers that the deal had been done.
The Blues? plan meets Government requirements that a casino should drive forward regeneration in run-down areas, create jobs, and carry the support of local people.
Only the latter point appeared dubious, but a concerted attempt to persuade Saltley?s largely Muslim population to turn a blind eye to gambling in return for new jobs and other economic benefits appeared to have succeeded.
Last night, however, something happened to throw the entire casino issue back into the melting pot.
At 5.30pm British time, MGM Mirage, one of America?s biggest entertainment companies, announced to the New York Stock Exchange that it had signed a contract to build a #250 million casino-hotel complex (pictured) at the National Exhibition Centre ? dependent, of course, on Government approval for a licence.
The announcement put paid to weeks of comment by city councillors that the NEC was too far behind with its casino plan and would be unable to overtake Birmingham City.
It also re-ignited speculation ? first aired in the summer ? that the council would be bound to favour the NEC, in which it has a majority shareholding, with the casino scheme simply, if for no other reason, because of the huge financial benefit it would bring to the local authority and, ultimately, to council tax payers.
The detail to emerge last night demonstrates that the tortoise is now running neck and neck with the hare, if not a little ahead.
Andrew Morris, NEC chief executive, explained that a share of the profits from the casino would guarantee the city council #350 million income over ten years and far more during the course of a 125-year lease. It would, quite literally, be a licence to print money for the council.
It would also mean, of course, that the council could if it wished put a proportion of the money towards the City of Birmingham Stadium in Saltley, thereby delivering a new home for the Blues and pacifying the Government?s wish for inner city regeneration.
Mr Morris said: ?If the council considers the stadium to be a really valuable part of Birmingham?s future, then it now has it within its grasp to finance it.
?We have only given the cash flow for the first ten years because it is difficult for people to get their heads around what this could mean over a 125-year period.
?It would provide a tremendous legacy, allowing those who come after us to drive forward the regeneration of Birmingham.?
The casino, to be called MGM Grand at the NEC, will create 6,700 jobs and also help transform the image of the National Exhibition Centre away from a conference venue to an ?entertainment destination?, according to Mr Morris.
The project will be linked to a substantial upgrade of the NEC Arena, which in turn is expected to benefit from MGM?s connections.
Mr Morris said he expects the Arena, used on average only 154 nights of the year at the moment, to be fully booked if and when the casino is up and running.
Unsurprisingly, Mr Morris is now talking to Ms Brady about a possible way forward.
He added: ?If you believe in the stadium, we can create it.?
Birmingham City Council must decide by the end of January, at the latest, which of the two rival casino bids it wants to put forward to the Government-appointed panel that will recommend the site of the country ? s first super-casino.
Yesterday?s development makes that choice rather more difficult than it once appeared.