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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has established a regulatory body named ‘General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority’ (GCGRA), marking a significant development in the realm of commercial gaming within the Arab Gulf state. This move potentially opens the door for casino licenses in a region where gambling is presently prohibited.
The GCGRA’s primary role is to “coordinate regulatory activities, manage licensing, and facilitate unlocking the economic potential of commercial gaming,” a report by Agence France Presse said, citing state-run WAM news agency.
While the statement did not explicitly clarify whether the term “gaming” pertains to gambling, nor did it mention casinos, the individuals appointed to lead the authority bring extensive industry experience to the forefront.
Kevin Mullally, formerly the executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission, which oversaw riverboat casinos in the United States, has been named as the CEO of the GCGRA.
“I am delighted to have been appointed as the inaugural CEO of the GCGRA. With my experienced colleagues, I look forward to establishing a robust regulatory body and framework for the UAE’s lottery and gaming industry,” Mullally was quoted as saying in the WAM statement.
Additionally, Jim Murren, who previously chaired the American Gaming Association, a trade group representing the U.S. casino industry, is appointed as the chairman of the new authority’s board of directors. Murren is also a former chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, a prominent casino operator headquartered in Nevada.
Although the UAE has long maintained a ban on gambling, rumors surrounding the possibility of casinos have persisted. In 2018, the iconic British ship Queen Elizabeth 2 was transformed into a hotel in Dubai, complete with deactivated slot machines.
Similarly, Caesars also established a presence in 2018. Ongoing construction projects in the region involve renowned casino firms like MGM, the Bellagio, and Aria, the report said.
Furthermore, in 2022, the northernmost emirate of the UAE, Ras al-Khaimah, announced a major partnership with Las Vegas-based casino giant Wynn Resorts. While authorities in Ras al-Khaimah have refrained from explicitly describing the project as involving gambling, Wynn has characterized it as involving the “subsequent management of an integrated resort,” a term signifying a hotel complex with a casino and additional amenities.
The planned $3.9 billion casino resort, described by analysts as “one of the most exciting growth prospects in the gaming industry globally,” will be called Wynn Al Marjan Island and is expected to open in early 2027.
According to recent reports, Craig Billings, CEO of Wynn Resorts, hinted that the issuance of the first casino license in the UAE may be imminent, with the company’s planned casino resort in Ras Al Khaimah set to become the only establishment of its kind in the country.
“We have everything we need to operate gaming in Al Marjan. So while there may be conversation in other Emirates about legalization or legalization at the federal level, thereby covering all Emirates, I expect that we will have our license for Ras Al Khaimah actually imminently,” Billings said during Wynn’s second-quarter earnings call last month.
Billings further told investors that the company has a very substantial growth opportunity in the UAE and called it “the most exciting gaming market in decades.”