Heading to ICE, iGB is preparing you for the biggest trade show of 2024 with this new series covering the latest developments since the 2023 show.

The creation of a federal gambling regulator by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in September 2023 is the next step towards a legal casino market in the country.

On September 3, the establishment of the General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA) was announced, tasked with establishing the regulatory framework for national lotteries and commercial gaming in the UAE.

While it is still unclear what the final regulations will be, operators are already taking steps to prepare for launch in the region.

One such company is Wynn Resorts. CEO Craig Billings described the UAE as the most exciting new market opening in decades.

With the establishment of GCGRA, the UAE moves one step closer to the regulated casino market

WAM, the UAE state news agency, announced the formation of the GCGRA in early September.

Currently, under federal law, anyone caught gambling in the UAE can be jailed for two years and fined AED 50,000 (£10,699/€12,452/$13,615).

However, the creation of the GCGRA is the next domino to fall on the path to a regulated gambling market in the UAE.

Kevin Mullally, previously executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission, will become executive director of the GCGRA. Mullally previously worked at Gaming Laboratories International (GLI) for 17 years.

Jim Murren will chair the GCGRA Board of Directors. Murren led MGM Resorts as chairman and CEO from 2008 to 2020.

It is still unclear what exactly will be allowed in the country. The question remains whether there will be an online component for bettors and operators in the market.

Another point of contention is whether the UAE’s two existing competitions, Emirates Draw and Mahzooz, are regulated by the GCGRA.

According to iGB sources, Mullally’s former company GLI led the deliberations on the creation of the UAE’s regulatory framework.

Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, a gaming consulting and market research company, also supported GLI in this work. The consultant had previously focused more on digital offerings, sparking speculation that the UAE was planning an online market.

These companies pushed for the government to take over gambling regulation at the federal level rather than the responsibility of each individual emirate.

Sources also said the UAE plans to introduce a 25 percent sales tax on mass-market gambling. Premium gambling, on the other hand, would be subject to a tax of 8%.

Wynn wants to capitalize on the UAE’s casino potential

Wynn Resorts is perhaps the operator best positioned to benefit from the introduction of a regulated gambling market in the UAE. The region’s first integrated casino resort is well on its way to opening.

Wynn has begun construction of its Al Marjan Casino. The project is expected to cost around $3.9 billion (£3.1 billion/€3.6 billion). Wynn holds a minority stake in the company, with 60% of the business owned by the operator’s local partners.

The resort, Wynn’s first project in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, is expected to open in early 2027.

The site is approximately 65 miles from Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates. It will include a gaming area, 1,500 hotel rooms, dining and lounge options, a spa and wellness center, a luxury shopping promenade, an events center, an on-site theater and a range of other entertainment options.

However, Wynn first needs a license and is wondering how that will work. The GCGRA is charged with administering licensing.

However, Wynn CEO Craig Billings is not concerned, claiming he expects Wynn’s Ras Al Khaimah license to be “imminent.”

Wynn has always demonstrated its confidence in the UAE’s launch of a regulated market. Billings has repeatedly praised its growth potential, particularly as the first operator to enter the region.

Billings recently said: “We believe it is highly unlikely that every emirate will ultimately claim the right to host an integrated resort.” We expect it will likely come to us alone over a period of several years if so one considers that the construction work is currently well advanced.

“We all know the benefits of being first, as we have seen in other markets. As I said, this is the most exciting new market opening in decades.”