With its glitzy luxury resorts and a world-renowned horse racing industry, the United Arab Emirates soon might have a new card to play in attracting visitors — gambling.
The UAE introduced a new regulatory body to oversee commercial gaming on Monday, made up of casino and gambling experts from the United States. Gambling is currently illegal in the UAE, where some laws are based on the Quran, which forbids the practice.
The new federal body, called the General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA), would create a “regulatory framework for a national lottery and commercial gaming,” according to Emirati state media WAM.
“[GCGRA will] facilitate unlocking the economic potential of commercial gaming responsibly,” WAM said.
Industry veterans Kevin Mullally and Jim Murren have been hired for key roles as CEO and chair respectively in the GCGRA, according to WAM.
The two executives have a combined 32 years of experience in the gambling industry according to LinkedIn — Murren is the former CEO of MGM Resorts International (MGM), while Mullally held various positions at Gaming Laboratories International.
“I look forward to establishing a robust regulatory body and framework for the UAE’s lottery and gaming industry,” Mullally said on his new appointment, according to WAM.
Last year, casino operator Wynn Resorts inked a deal to build a luxury resort in Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates with a “gaming area.” A statement by Wynn Resorts (WYNN) did not elaborate on whether gambling would be involved, but Craig Billings, CEO of Wynn Hotels, told shareholders in an earnings call on August 9 that the resort expects to have a license for gaming operations in Ras Al Khaimah “imminently.”
“There should be no concern that there is a broader legalization process in order for gaming to occur in that property,” Billings told shareholders.
Global casino company Caesars Entertainment (CZR) has operated a non-gambling hotel in Dubai since 2018.
Legalized gambling in the UAE would likely be of interest to cruise liners such as MSC and Royal Caribbean Cruise, which frequent the UAE’s ports with casinos on board. But gambling is prohibited in UAE waters, so casinos are prohibited from operating while docked, according to Costa Cruises and Oceania’s FAQ pages.
Overall tourism currently accounts for 9% of the UAE’s GDP. If 1.6% of the UAE’s GDP was based on gaming — as it is in Singapore — it would bring in $6.6 billion dollars of revenue annually, Bloomberg analysts reported on Monday.