The process for deciding whether Birmingham will get a super-casino descended into confusion last night after the city council was forced to delay making a decision on which of two rival bids to support.
After receiving conflicting advice from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the council said it would not be choosing between a casino at the NEC or Birmingham City Football Club until the summer at the earliest.
There were warnings it was now highly likely that further super-casino bids would emerge as a result of the delay.
Ken Hardeman, Birmingham cabinet member for regeneration, said the council was expecting an approach from an American-based gaming company wanting to open a casino at Eastside.
The prospect of a further six months of debate about the casino issue means that the NEC and Birmingham City FC face a frustrating wait to discover whether they will be recommended as the site for the country's first American-style gaming centre.
There is also uncertainty about who will decide on the best bid to submit to the Government.
If a number of casino options emerge, a competitive process will choose the best proposal. That process is likely to be organised on a regional basis by the West Midlands Regional Assembly - a move that would dilute Birmingham City Council's influence.
The latest delay results from a new interpretation of "misleading" information from the DCMS, according to Coun Hardeman (Con Brandwood).
Coun Hardeman said a letter sent by the DCMS gave the impression that super-casino bids would have to be in by the end of January. This was wrong since the criteria upon which bids are to be judged will not be published by DCMS until the end of March.
This meant consultants to be appointed by the council to assess the NEC and Birmingham City projects will not start their work until April, Coun Hardeman said.
Coun Hardeman added: "When we know whether the NEC and Birmingham City schemes meet the criteria we will then be in a position to judge and make a decision.
"There is no point though, at the moment, in ruling one in and one out. We should as a city unite behind both bids and allow them to develop."
Talks held yesterday between Karren Brady, chief executive of Birmingham City FC, and Andrew Morris, chief executive of the NEC Group, were inconclusive.
Ms Brady said: "It is very clear now that the two schemes are very different. Ours is based on regeneration, jobs and social inclusion. Theirs is a financial package for an out-of-town shed.
"There is no common ground between the two. We are going to continue to gather support for our project and I am sure the NEC will do the same.
"But sooner or later Birmingham City Council will have to decide which scheme to support."