The bureaucratic step ushers in what state officials hope is a bidding war for the licenses that could bring more than $600 million to state coffers to ease future budget shortfalls, and more than $400 million to casino operators when the program is fully implemented in five years.
The commission must consider a number of factors set out in state law when awarding licenses, such as which would yield the most revenue for the state and the impact on economic development in the area. Donald C. Fry, the panel's chairman, said it would be "premature" and "speculative" to gauge potential interest in slots licenses. The winning bids might not be chosen until next fall.
A conference to field questions from interested parties will be held Jan. 12 at the Maryland Lottery, which will eventually regulate the system. Some bidders have already signaled an interest, including Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns the Laurel Park horse-racing track in Anne Arundel County, and Penn National Gaming, which has been looking at building a casino in Cecil County.