UAE Aiming to Secure Multi-Billion Dollar Windfall from Casinos

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken another important step along the road to becoming the first Gulf state to legalise casinos.

The UAE has established a federal body to regulate commercial gaming and a national lottery, which will be chaired by the former Chief Executive Officer of MGM Resorts International Jim Murren.

With more than 30 years’ experience in the gaming industry, Murren is best known for helping MGM become the largest casino owner on the Las Vegas Strip. Another casino veteran, Kevin Mullally, will be the CEO of the new organisation.

The move will pave the way for Wynn Resorts’ new $3.9 billion gaming resort in Ras Al Khaimah to obtain a license to offer gambling services in the UAE.

This would be a massive development for a region which has traditionally prohibited gambling due to strict religious laws. The UAE is leading the charge in changing what many other countries around the world view to be antiquated practices.

With the UAE reportedly set to benefit to the tune of around $7bn annually from legalising online casinos, it is easy to see why many other Middle East nations are currently reassessing their position on gambling.

As evidenced by this 888 Casino review, some reputable international gaming brands already allow Arab players to sign-up for an account on their online sites.

Their success has demonstrated to governments in the region just how popular games such as roulette, blackjack and slots have become, and has opened their eyes to the potential revenue benefits a formal licensing and regulatory framework would provide.

The appointments of Murren and Mullally to oversee developments in the UAE are particularly noteworthy given their vast experience in the United States gaming market.

Their expertise built up over the past few decades will be invaluable in helping the UAE mirror the financial benefits generated by the casino gaming in the US. 

A recent study by the American Gaming Association (AGA) highlights that point to perfection, which the US casino sector generating almost $329bn annually to the national economy.

The industry supports an estimated 1.8 million jobs, provides $104 million of salaries, and generates almost $53bn in tax revenues to federal, state and local governments.

AGA President and CEO Bill Miller says the figures demonstrate the ‘resiliency and strength’ of an industry that was forced to navigate the tricky COVID-19 pandemic period.

“The US gaming industry delivers long-term growth and impact to communities, generating significant tax revenue, creating strong jobs, supporting local small businesses and funding critical community priorities.”  Miller said.

“Think back to where we were a few years ago with nearly 1,000 casinos, almost all of them closed. Today, we’re seeing record revenue in the industry.”

While the UAE’s estimated $7bn windfall from legalising casinos is a drop in the ocean compared the numbers generated in the US, the respective size and population of each nation must be taken into account.

The principles of using casino revenues to fund social development remain the same and is a factor which undoubtedly appeals to the rulers in the UAE. 

The knock-on effect to other sectors must also not be underestimated, with casino tourism likely to contribute massively to the economy.

Hotels, restaurants and retail outlets will benefit from the influx of people who will head to the UAE on the back of the country relaxing its stance on gambling.

In the US, non-gambling properties such as hotels and restaurants generated $56bn out of the total of $329bn revenue – a whopping 17 percent share.

Jane Bokunewicz, who is an expert on the Atlantic City gambling industry, says the money won by casinos provides a vast array of community and occupational benefits. 

The director of the Lloyd Levenson Institute at New Jersey’s Stockton University boasts a wealth of experience in the gaming sector and believes the UAE’s decision to open its doors to casinos is a sensible move.

“Casinos are often the largest employers in a region, with major commitments in terms of wages and benefits,” she said. “People employed by casinos use those wages and benefits to purchase additional goods and services, generating secondary economic impact.”

While the opening of the first resort in the UAE is still three years away, the creation of the new federal body to regulate gaming will likely have an immediate impact online.

Numerous leading international gaming brands are monitoring developments in the UAE and are expected to jump on the bandwagon when the licensing and regulatory framework is finalised.