People familiar with the matter reported that the emirates of Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi seem to be the frontrunners to introduce casinos before their neighboring Dubai emirate after the latter put any immediate plans to legalize gambling on hold.
The United Arab Emirates set up a legal gambling framework in September, with Abu Dhabi collaborating with Yas Island to outline what it would be to open a casino. As reported by people close to the process who asked not to be named because the discussions are still private, a spot situated in close proximity to the city’s port is also being considered.
The northern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah has seen the US casino and entertainment giant Wynn Resorts Ltd unveil plans for the establishment of a $3.9-billion integrated casino resort which is expected to start operation in 2027.
Meanwhile, after months of discussions, some senior Dubai government officials announced that gambling was not a priority for the city for the time being because its tourism sector is already flourishing. According to the unnamed sources cited by Bloomberg, for the time being, it remains unclear how long Dubai may resist any plans to introduce casino gambling and whether the local authorities will reconsider the issue in case circumstances change in the future.
Until then, local officials have taken the possibility of introducing a poker series to Dubai into consideration.
Reportedly, even if Dubai decides to keep casino gambling suspended, the emirate should be able to benefit from at least a fraction of the visitor traffic to Ras Al Khaimah or Abu Dhabi casinos. According to preliminary expectations, the UAE could obtain gaming revenue of as much as $6.6 billion every year.
Uncertainty Still Looms over the Fate of Legal Gambling in the UAE
The introduction of casino gambling would be a massive change for the United Arab Emirates where the legislation is mainly based on the Shariah law. Gambling is banned under Islam, so it is currently illegal in the country, and offenders can face a monetary fine, an imprisonment sentence of up to two years, or both.
Even though nothing is final and could eventually change, the United Arab Emirates is still considering the possibility of granting a casino license to each of the emirates, allowing them to take advantage of the lucrative casino market while growth is kept under control.
As CasinoGamesPro already reported, in August, the Chief Executive Officer of Wynn Resorts – Craig Billings – said that the company expects to be granted a gaming license for the Ras Al Khaimah emirate soon. Elsewhere, each emirate will individually decide whether and, if yes, when it is willing to issue an operating permit for any type of gambling.
According to preliminary reports from Bloomberg Intelligence, the UAE’s casino market could surpass Singapore in terms of revenue, although the profitability’s visibility is low, as no tax structure has been defined or announced by the Government yet. Bloomberg analysts have shared that the gaming revenue of the United Arab Emirates could reach $6.6 billion.
On the other hand, the recently erupted war between Israel and Hamas could affect the future of legal gambling in the UAE. Despite the ongoing uncertainty, the CEO of MGM Resorts International, Bill Hornbuckle, reassured the attendants of an October 10th industry trade show that his company remains willing to set foot in the country, no matter the war. Mr. Hornbuckle further shared that he believes there would be three or four casinos in the emirates and confirmed that each ruler would be able to decide the fate of legal gambling services.
Previously, MGM Resorts International has revealed that it started working on a Plateau Island project back in 2015 and it hopes to be able to start offering casino gambling services there someday.