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Gambling in the United Arab Emirates: Creation of a new regulatory body to oversee commercial gambling

Abu Dhabi

With its luxury resorts and world-renowned horse racing industry, the UAE may soon have a new card to play to attract visitors: gambling.

The United Arab Emirates on Monday introduced a new regulatory body to oversee commercial gambling, made up of casino and gambling experts from the United States. Gambling is currently illegal in the United Arab Emirates, where some laws are based on the Quran, which prohibits this 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) the responsible release of the economic potential of commercial gaming,” WAM said.

Industry veterans Kevin Mullally and Jim Murren have been hired for key roles of CEO and Chairman respectively. in the GCGRA, according to WAM.

The two executives combine 32 years of experience in the gaming 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 strong regulatory body and framework for the UAE lottery and gaming industry,” Mullally said of his new appointment, according to WAM.

Last year, casino operator Wynn Resorts signed a deal to build a luxury resort in Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates, complete with a “gaming zone”. A statement from Wynn Resorts (WYNN) did not say whether gambling would be involved, but Craig Billings, CEO of Wynn Hotels, told shareholders on an earnings conference call Aug. 9 that the resort hoped to have a license for gambling operations in Ras Al. Khaimah ‘imminently’.

“There should be no concern that there is a broader legalization process for gaming to take place at this property,” Billings told shareholders.

Global casino company Caesars Entertainment (CZR) has been operating a gambling-free hotel in Dubai since 2018.

Legalizing gambling in the UAE would likely be of interest to cruise liners such as MSC and Royal Caribbean Cruise, which frequent UAE ports with onboard casinos. But gambling is banned in UAE waters, so casinos are banned from operating dockside, according to the Costa Cruises and Oceania FAQ pages.

Dubai prides itself on being the “cruise hub of the region”, welcoming 1,750 cruise ships each year. The capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, welcomed a record number of 700,000 cruise tourists between May 2022 and 2023.

Overall tourism currently accounts for 9% of the UAE’s GDP. If 1.6% of the UAE’s GDP relied on gaming – as it does in Singapore – it would bring in $6.6 billion in revenue a year, Bloomberg analysts reported on Monday.