The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced the establishment of a federal authority to regulate and oversee the country’s lottery and commercial gaming industry, as major casino operators eye the lucrative Gulf Arab market.
New authority to create a responsible gaming environment
The General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA) was created by a decree issued by President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Sunday, according to the state-run WAM news agency. The authority will be responsible for coordinating regulatory activities, managing licensing nationally and facilitating the economic potential of commercial gaming in a socially responsible manner.
The authority will also ensure that all participants in the gaming industry adhere to strict guidelines and comply with the highest standards. The decree did not specify what types of games or activities would fall under the authority’s jurisdiction, nor did it mention any timeline for launching the lottery or commercial gaming operations.
Former MGM Resorts CEO to head the authority’s board
The GCGRA will be headed by Jim Murren, the former chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, one of the world’s largest casino operators. Murren has extensive experience in the gaming industry and has worked closely with officials in the Emirates in the past.
Murren was involved in the $9.2 billion CityCenter partnership between MGM Resorts International and Dubai World, which opened in 2009 as the biggest single development on the Las Vegas Strip. He also headed Nevada’s COVID-19 response and tried to pitch the state on using UAE-donated, Chinese-made testing kits.
The CEO of the GCGRA will be Kevin Mullally, who previously served as the executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission, which oversaw that U.S. state’s riverboat casinos. Mullally said he was delighted to have been appointed as the inaugural CEO of the GCGRA and looked forward to establishing a robust regulatory body and framework for the UAE’s lottery and gaming industry.
UAE likely to allow gambling as tourism industry recovers
The creation of a federal authority for commercial gaming suggests that the UAE is on the verge of allowing gambling, which is generally prohibited in Islamic countries. The move could be seen as a way to raise money and boost its tourism industry, which has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UAE, especially Dubai, is known for its lavish attractions and entertainment options, such as skyscrapers, shopping malls, theme parks and sports events. However, gambling has been largely absent from its offerings, despite rumors of casino plans being considered for years.
A 2004 U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks speculated that Dubai’s casino plans had “been put on ice due to deference” to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the country’s first president after unification in 1971. However, with his son Sheikh Khalifa now in charge, the situation may have changed.
The UAE’s decision to create a gaming authority comes at a time when major casino operators are flocking to the Gulf Arab region, attracted by its wealthy population and growing demand for leisure activities. In June, Caesars Entertainment announced that it would open its first non-gaming resort in Dubai later this year. In July, Las Vegas Sands said it was exploring opportunities to enter Saudi Arabia, which is also opening up its tourism sector.
The UAE’s move could also have implications for other countries in the region, such as Qatar and Bahrain, which may follow suit or face losing out on potential revenues and tourists. The UAE’s lottery and commercial gaming industry could become a new source of competition and cooperation for its neighbors.