Is the UAE on the way to becoming the next gaming hub?

Published on:

The UAE, known for its oil exports and tourism, is now taking steps to establish the gaming and casino industry with a view to further boost tourism revenue. People usually compare Dubai to Las Vegas, minus the casinos, but that can change very soon.

Most recently, the UAE formed a federal authority for commercial gaming named General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA), putting them one step closer towards legalizing casinos under “commercial gaming”. Although the Gulf nation has not clearly stated that it would permit gambling the circumstantial evidence suggests that is what it could be doing. It is further solidified by the fact that CEO of Wynn Resorts, Craig Billings, has claimed that his company is getting closer to acquiring a licence to operate in the UAE.

Kevin Mullally a former executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission (MGC) will be acting as the CEO of GCGRA. Mullally was responsible for the US state’s riverboat casinos during his time at MGC. Along with Mullally, former chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts will serve as the chairman of the board for GCGRA.

The authority can help global casino operators enter the local market, however, that would require amendments to the laws as the nation does not allow gambling. If successful, the UAE will become the first among the Gulf nations to permit casinos.

What do the current laws stipulate when it comes to gambling?

Currently, as per the UAE Penal Code, gambling is illegal under Article 414. An individual found gambling in public can be fined up to AED 20,000 or 2 years of imprisonment, or both. For tourist, looking to indulge in illegal gambling, the authorities can deport them back under Article 121.

Online gambling also faces similar treatment as platforms providing those services are constantly banned by the authorities. However, illegal gambling using a VPN service still persists as it can easily dupe the ISP and allow people to gamble online.

If the law is amended to grant licences to casino operators, Dubai can be in line to become a commercial gaming hub. Currently, national lotteries and gambling at two horse racecourses namely, Jebel Ali Racecourse and Nad Al Sheba Racecourse, are permitted. While few of the international gaming and hospitality operators have already established resorts or are under construction, they currently do not feature any gaming facilities.

Casinos can also help in increasing the revenue for the country as they boost tourism significantly compared to any other activity. As per reports, the UAE can earn annual revenue of up to $6 billion by legalizing casinos.

In 2022, the share of tourism to the nation’s GDP was 9%, contributing $45 billion. It has been reported that the Gulf nation wants to triple tourism revenue by 2031. Clearly, to achieve this it would have to come up with more options to boost tourism, and allowing casinos can be a lucrative one.