Skip to main content

The UAE Could Shift Singapore as Major Gambling Hub in the Middle East Region if Gambling Is Legalized

The global gambling market continues to expand, with industry analysts sharing opinions that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) may become the first Gulf country to give the green light to casinos – a legislative move that could eventually create strong competition in the region and, according to some, even become a center for gambling in the region, shifting Singapore from that position.

As revealed by some senior Government officials, for now, local lawmakers do not have any pending plans to allow gambling, but some individuals with knowledge of the situation, such as representatives of casino operators, lawyers, and consultants, have shared there have been early discussions for such a move and the Government is already considering a revolutionary change. Several weeks ago, the US casino giant Wynn Resorts even announced some details of its planned $3.9-billion integrated resort in the UAE, although it had not openly said that the project would involve the provision of gambling services.

According to reports, other casino companies have also been involved in informal discussions with the competent authorities in the United Arab Emirates, but these talks are kept private for now. People familiar with the situation, who asked not to be named, also revealed that some international gambling operators are already scouting for hotels to locate casinos.

The UAE Trying to Become Less Reliant on Oil Lately

The stakes remain high. Gambling market experts believe that, if legalized, the UAE gambling sector could generate annual gaming revenue of about $6.6 billion, and even eventually surpass the one generated in Singapore, which is considered a stronghold of gambling operations in the region.

According to Bloomberg Intelligence’s senior gaming and hospitality analyst Angela Hanlee, Dubai and other emirates could potentially become massive leisure-gambling markets, as gambling-related tourism could emerge as a major driver of the United Arab Emirates’ economy, especially at a time when the country is trying to become less reliant on oil.

If gambling, or at least some form of gambling is officially allowed in the country, that would be a major step forward for the nation, which has the Shariah law as the basis for legislation. As previously explained by CasinoGamesPro, gambling is currently banned on the territory of the country under Islam, and offenders could not only face monetary penalties but could also face imprisonment sentences for up to two years, or both.

The last few years, however, have seen a series of reforms in the UAE, and more particularly, in Dubai, in the light of increasing competition from neighbors such as Saudi Arabia, in an effort to keep its advantage as the top tourism and trade hub in the region.

However, as mentioned above, there has been no actual clarity on how serious the planning and discussion process is in terms of a potential gambling expansion in the nation. Despite market analysts’ hopes to see the gambling market legalized in the United Arab Emirates, the country may eventually decide not to change the existing status quo, or at least, for the time being.

Wynn Resorts Plans to Open Integrated Resort in Ras Al Khaimah in 2027

For some time now, UAE Government officials have been mixed messages, with some saying there were no plans aimed at allowing gambling, while others claim that the necessary infrastructure for casinos is already in place. A representative for the Dubaian Government shared that the proposed legalization of gambling was a federal matter but provided no further details on the talks. On the other hand, representatives for the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, and the Federal Government, have not yet commented on the issue.

As previously reported, Las Vegas-based casino giant Wynn Resorts has been interested in establishing itself in the country. Even though the chief executive officer of the company, Raki Phillips, refused to comment on the talks with Government officials, he has confirmed that the operator filed an inquiry to the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority. In 2022, the Authority established a division to regulate so-called integrated resorts that will also offer gambling services.

According to market analysts, the emirate of Dubai would likely benefit the most from any changes that the country could decide to make. The emirate has already been a popular destination for tourists from all over the world and has welcomed many newcomers thanks to its reputation as a wealth haven and its successful handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Industry experts believe that the legalization and introduction of casino gambling could further benefit Dubai’s tourism sector which has so far been a major pillar of the emirate’s economy.

And the rumors that the country, or at least certain parts of it, are not recent. Ever since the opening of the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel about 25 years ago, there has been speculation claiming that the bar on the building’s top floor was initially planned as a casino and that gambling could eventually be made legal in the emirate. Two decades and a half later, the Government has still not legalized gambling but the rumors that such a move is possible are getting stronger than ever.

In addition, several world-known casino companies already operate in the city or are trying to expand their presence there. A few years ago, in 2018, Caesars Entertainment established its first non-gambling resort on Bluewaters Island. Another company, Kerzner International, has operated an Atlantis resort for years before it recently managed to open a second hotel in close proximity to the original luxury resort.

The US gambling and casino giant MGM Resort International, on the other hand, has unveiled plans to establish an MGM-operated hotel and entertainment district in collaboration with local developer Wasl. It has also been planning the establishment of a Bellagio and Aria hotel on a project called The Island, which is situated near Jumeirah Beach. The company’s chief executive officer Bill Hornbuckle has recently shared that he expected further development on the matter to take place in the country in the months to follow.

Affluent Chinese Tourists and Loyal Wynn Customers Targeted as the Key Customer Base of the Wynn Al Marjan Resort

Local officials have shared that Chinese tourists and loyal customers of Wynn Resorts are likely to be the major visitors to the company’s new gambling resort in the United Arab Emirates.

Both the brand’s loyal customers and affluent tourists from mainland China are expected to become important drivers of the planned resort that is set to also offer one of the largest hotels in the country at the time it starts operation in 2027 in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, at only an hour drive of Dubai.

In an interview at the Arabian Travel Market convention that took place in Dubai at the beginning of May, the CEO of the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority confirmed that Chinese customers have become a big target group for the emirate now. As mentioned above, Mr. Phillips refused to make any comments on whether casino gambling was coming to the emirate or on the potential progress of the legislation. Last year, the Authority created a special division aimed at the regulation of integrated resorts, which could offer gambling facilities as well.

Furthermore, loyal customers of Wynn Resorts would be the other major customer base segment at the new UAE property of the company, as explained by Alison Grinnell, the CEO of one of the government entities that are investing in the US casino operator’s resort, RAK Hospitality Holding. Ms. Grinnell noted that Wynn Resorts has a “very loyal following” even though the company does not have a massive number of gambling resorts across the world.

Some Emirates Likely to Apply for Casino Gambling Permits if Laws Change

Table games, on the other hand, have not been new to the region. For example, the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2, which is permanently anchored in Dubai and currently operates a luxury hotel, is still home to some vintage slot machines. Even though they have been long withdrawn from service, they are available for the public to see.

Four years ahead of its planned opening, Wynn Al Marjan Island in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah has already boosted the planned number of rooms by 50%, with the luxury resort now expected to feature about 1,500 hotel rooms, suites and villas. The venue, which will be Wynn Resorts’ first project in the Middle East and North Africa at the time it opens in 2027, is also set to feature a gaming area and a theater.

On the other hand, casino gambling is already known in other countries in the Middle East. Lebanon and Egypt, for example, have casinos that operate all year round and offer a variety of table games, gambling machines, and other live games. Malaysia, which is also a predominantly Muslim nation, allows operators to offer legal gambling services.

According to some market experts and people with knowledge of the matter, individual emirates could be given the opportunity to individually decide whether to allow gambling (and, in particular, casino gambling) if the United Arab Emirates eventually decides to strike down the gambling ban. Analysts believe that one of the more conservative sheikdoms across the nation, Sharjah, would not participate even if the Government changes laws. In 2022, it failed to stay in line with its neighboring emirates when they moved to a Monday-to-Friday week.

Market analysts believe that the emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Khaimah, and Fujairah, are likely to apply for casino gambling permits if the Government changes the laws.

 Author: Harrison Young

Harrison Young is an experienced writer, who started his career almost 8 years ago. Prior to joining our team at CasinoGamesPro, he worked as an editor for a small magazine.