At its first meeting last night, the commission that will award licenses to run slot-machine casinos in Maryland approved a 150-page request for bids that is expected to be sent to potential operators today.
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.
A fast-track process was put into motion when voters ratified a constitutional amendment in November legalizing up to 15,000 slot machines at five locations around the state. Bids are due Feb. 2, but the seven-member commission voted to allow bidders until mid-April to supplement their bids with detailed information such as architectural drawings that might not be completed in the next six weeks.
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.