"Casino 101 is location, location, location," Creighton said. "The Woodrow Wilson Bridge [connecting Alexandria, Va., to Prince George's County] is aiming almost directly into the property."

The proposed casino site is beside Washington's Beltway, near its connection with Interstate 295. Much of the area's highway infrastructure was built within the past few years.

"We're going to benefit from that infrastructure," Creighton said, mainly because it will be easy for customers to reach the property.

Other factors Creighton sees in MGM's favor are the company's commitment to diversity — a plus when the commission is looking at minority hiring — and its size. MGM is an entertainment powerhouse, he said, that would be able to bring big names to its casino.

Plus, it has a vast database of players around the world, he said. MGM owns significant brands that have global recognition, including Bellagio and Mandalay Bay, and is based in Nevada.

"We will be able to leverage the ... Players Club program to draw tourists to National Harbor," Creighton said.

The major selling point of Penn National's proposed casino, which would be located at Rosecroft Raceway, just off the Capital Beltway a few miles east of the Potomac, is its connection to harness racing, said Karen Bailey, vice president of public affairs for Penn National.

"The original intent of slots in Maryland was to help sustain and save the horse racing industry and all of the jobs that go along with it," Bailey said.

Penn National purchased Rosecroft two years ago out of bankruptcy. Last summer, the company signed a contract with the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association that would end racing at the track if a casino license in Prince George's County were granted to another bidder.

Penn National also has significant experience within the region, Bailey said. The company runs the Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil County and operates a Hollywood casino and racetrack in Charles Town, W.Va., that draws from the Washington market. If it were to win the Prince George's license, the casino would operate under the Hollywood name.

"MGM does not have the regional gaming operations we do, and Greenwood ... does not have the same breadth of experience that we do," Bailey said.

Although Penn National's application proposed just 500 slot machines at Rosecroft — far fewer than the 4,750 proposed by Greenwood and the 3,600 MGM wants — that number would be increased to 3,000 if Penn National were awarded the license, Bailey said.

Fry said the licensing commission would "look at the proposals that are submitted" and not at the applicants' intentions. But he said the proposals may be revised if authorized by the commissioners.

Greenwood, the only private company in the competition, emerged as a surprise bidder May 10 but does not see itself as a dark horse. It is succeeding in the Philadelphia market, which has a high tax rate on casino gambling like Maryland, even though its Parx Casino is close to Atlantic City, N.J., where operators pay a fraction of the taxes, said Bob Green, Greenwood's chairman.

"Every year, our market share of the East Coast market increases and theirs declines," Green said of Greenwood's casino, which opened in late 2006 and was formerly known as Philadelphia Park Casino and Racetrack.

Maryland and Pennsylvania tax slot machines at a rate above 50 percent. In Nevada and New Jersey, the rate is under 10 percent.

Another advantage for Greenwood is that the site selected for its proposed Prince George's casino, which also would operate under the Parx name, is similar to its Pennsylvania property, Green said.

Greenwood's casino is just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike, about 20 miles north of downtown Philadelphia. The site the company selected in Maryland is three miles south of the Capital Beltway on Indian Head Highway, about 15 miles from the National Mall.

"It literally felt like deja vu when we went down there," said Tony Ricci, Greenwood's CEO.

Greenwood's casino, moreover, would have a larger economic impact than its competitors, Ricci said.