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Las Vegas of the Middle East? UAE creates 'commercial gaming' authority

New federal body would create framework for 'national lottery and commercial gaming', as US hotel and casino giant plans new resort in the Emirates
A picture shows a view of the Dubai skyline in the United Arab Emirates on 20 June 2022.
A picture shows a view of the Dubai skyline in the United Arab Emirates on 20 June 2022 (AFP)

The United Arab Emirates has created a federal "commercial gaming" authority, in a step that could see the Emirates becoming the first Gulf state to allow gambling and casinos.

The news came on Sunday through the state-affiliated news agency WAM, which announced the creation of the General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA). The report offered few details, however it said that the new authority would "introduce a world-leading regulatory framework for a national lottery and commercial gaming".

WAM also stated that the new CEO of the gaming authority would be Kevin Mullaly, who previously served as the executive director of the US state of Missouri's gaming commission.

"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 said, according to WAM.

The WAM report also named Jim Murren, the former chairman of MGM Resorts International, as the chair of the UAE authority's board of directors.

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MGM Resorts International previously engaged in a partnership with the investment company Dubai World in 2009, working together on the $9.2bn CityCenter on the Las Vegas Strip. Casinos had long been rumoured to be a potential way for the UAE to boost its revenues from its tourism industry.

Last year, the Ras al-Khaimah emirate in the UAE announced a deal with the Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts, a casino giant based in Nevada. The $4bn deal would include the building of a hotel resort.

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While authorities in the emirate have refused to describe the hotel as having gambling, Wynn Resorts previously told Reuters that gaming will make up "four percent" of the total resort's property.

And in a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Wynn Resorts described its project in the UAE as having the "subsequent management of an integrated resort" - a term that refers to a hotel that includes a casino.

Casinos are uncommon across the Middle East, where many Muslim-majority countries forbid them along with other forms of gambling. 

Emirati officials told Bloomberg earlier this year that the country had no imminent plans to allow gambling.

Bloomberg has estimated that if the UAE were to allow gambling it could bring in $6.6bn in additional revenue each year.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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