UAE Sets up Gaming Regulator, with Former US Gambling Figures Prominent

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has set up a General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA), which will oversee potential gambling legalization in the Gulf State. The regulator will be based in the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi (pictured), in a break from its traditionally localized social policies led by its seven emirates.

Appointments to the board include former MGM Resorts International chairman and American Gaming Association head Jim Murren, and former Missouri gambling regulatory head Kevin Mullally.

Gambling has long been de-facto illegal in the secular, Islamic UAE, and there has been no official word on that changing before this. But several developments over recent years have suggested that a relaxation of the policy could be imminent.

Wynn Resorts is set to build an “integrated resort” in Dubai, which it says will include a casino. That now looks more likely to be the case, even if UAE officials have been tight-lipped about the actual development so far.

“I am delighted to have been appointed as the inaugural CEO of the GCGRA,” said Mullally, in a statement reported by the Emirati News Agency.

“With my experienced colleagues, I look forward to establishing a robust regulatory body and framework for the UAE’s lottery and gaming industry.”

Experienced Gambling Figures

The GCGRA’s primary responsibility is to create a regulatory framework for the UAE’s national lottery and commercial gaming sectors.

The establishment of this body signifies the UAE’s intent to introduce a regulated gaming industry, overseen by a team of internationally credentialed leaders.

Kevin Mullally, an experienced U.S. gambling figure who spent a 17-year tenure at Gaming Laboratories International, has been appointed as the CEO of the GCGRA.

Joining him at the helm is Jim Murren, former decade-long CEO of MGM Resorts International, who will serve as the chairman of the board of directors.

The GCGRA aims to foster a socially responsible and well-regulated gaming environment. It will ensure that all participants adhere to strict guidelines and uphold the highest standards. The body will manage licensing at a national level, coordinating regulatory activities.

Wynn Resorts and Future Developments

The timing of the GCGRA’s establishment is crucial for Wynn Resorts, which is in the process of developing an integrated resort on Al-Marjan Island in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah.

Wynn Resorts management has hinted at an imminent issuance of a gaming license for Wynn’s resort project in the Ras Al Khaimah emirate since early this year. However, with the introduction of a federal regulatory model, questions arise about whether Wynn will need to reapply for its license.

The Al-Marjan Resort is expected to complete in 2027. Wynn has said it envisions a gaming space far bigger than its flagship Wynn Resorts Las Vegas. But UAE officials have yet to confirm anything about the gambling side of the project.

Wynn holds a minority stake in this venture, with the majority owned by local partners.

MGM Resorts International is also building casino-less MGM, Bellagio, and Aria hotel resorts in Jumeriah Beach in Dubai. MGM CEO Bill Hornbuckle told the company earnings call earlier in 2023 that he saw the potential for a UAE casino project.

“We think that over time, it could be a unique opportunity,” he said. “But for now, hospitality is our key focus there, and we’ll see what the government does.”

Potential Frameworks

It is reported that U.S. gaming consultants have also been working on potential regulations with the regulatory body. That includes California-based Eilers & Krejcik Gaming.

They have apparently been big advocators for a federal approach to gambling regulation, rather than leaving it to individual emirates.

Wynn’s surprise announcement that one of the smaller emirates was due to give out a gambling licence, with no official word on the subject forthcoming, could have been an instigating factor in the UAE looking to push forward nationwide legislation.

Sources suggest that the UAE is considering a 25% revenue tax on mass market gambling, with premium gaming being subject to an 8% tax. This development positions the UAE as a potentially lucrative market for global gaming giants, with some analysts suggesting it could be a $6 billion dollar yearly market.

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