A special meeting of the Birmingham City Council cabinet has been called in an attempt to resolve an increasingly ugly dispute about the best site for a super-casino.

Council leaders will gather on March 20 to decide whether to tell a Government panel that Birmingham wishes to be considered as a suitable location for Britain's first American-style gaming house.

Speculation was growing last night that the cabinet may sacrifice all interest in a casino in Birmingham, and mount instead a joint campaign with Solihull Borough Council in support of a proposed super-casino at the National Exhibition Centre.

The suggestion, put forward by a source close to the cabinet, would put paid to Birmingham City Football Club's hopes of funding a new stadium and #340 million sports village at Saltley off the income from a super-casino.

The possibility emerged following a campaign of unprecedented intensity by the Birmingham business community, Solihull Council and the NEC, designed to railroad the cabinet into a quick decision.

Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Birmingham Forward both said this week that the council should back the NEC scheme, which they believe has a far better chance of winning Government approval. The Institute of Directors in the West Midlands is expected to announce on Monday that it also supports the NEC.

Solihull Council has already said that it will submit an application to the panel.

Pressure on the cabinet increased yesterday when Andrew Morris, the NEC chief executive, said that Birmingham had been "incredibly slow off the mark" on the casino issue and had let rival cities leap ahead in the race.

The Casino Advisory Panel has set a deadline of March 31 for local authorities to say whether they wish to have a super-casino in their area. The panel has not asked for councils to promote specific sites at this stage.

However, Mr Morris said: "We are going to be running around at the eleventh hour putting together strands of an application. It is creating a lot more anxiety than was necessary.

"I think that Birmingham has a history of being poorly organised over major projects.

"Manchester, a city with far less appeal than Birmingham, is often able to mobilise more quickly and align its stakeholders' interests more effectively."

Mr Morris's remarks, particularly his reference to Manchester, is likely to cause further friction at the top of Birmingham City Council's Conservative group, where there are sharp differences of opinion about the best way forward on the casino issue.

Ken Hardeman, the cabinet member for regeneration, has said on several occasions that it would be premature at this stage for the council to choose between the NEC and Birmingham City. Coun Hardeman (Con Brandwood) has pointed out to his colleagues that the advisory panel will not be asking for specific sites until later in the year.

He wants the cabinet to take time to consider a report by consultants KPMG, examining the merits of the NEC and Birmingham City schemes, which will not be available until March 20 ? the day of the special cabinet meeting.

Both of the rival casino schemes promise substantial financial reward for Birmingham.

The NEC has pledged to pay the council #350 million over ten years from the profits of a casino.

Birmingham City FC would give the council up to #50 million over ten years, in addition to a #340 million sports village, stadium and #55 million to clean contaminated land.