The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has created a federal gaming regulatory authority and named veteran U.S. casino executive Jim Murren to chair it. Kevin Mullally, former executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission, has been named chief executive officer, Reuters reported September 4.
The creation of the General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA) is the first step towards legalizing something that has long been illegal in the region because it is forbidden by Islam, and a necessary step for developing a commercial casino industry in the Gulf state, one of seven emirates in the federal structure of the UAE. The action makes it possible to issue casino licenses.
The Emirates News Agency (WAM) September 3 announced that the role of the GCGRA is to “coordinate regulatory activities, manage licensing, and facilitate unlocking the economic potential of commercial gaming.” Casinos are not specifically mentioned by the report, but the persons named to the new agency are both veterans of the gambling industry in the U.S.
WAM added: that GCGRA would have “federal authority to introduce a world-leading regulatory framework for a national lottery and commercial gaming.” It would also, it said, “create a socially responsible and well-regulated gaming environment, ensuring that all participants adhere to strict guidelines and comply with the highest standards.” It will also “coordinate regulatory activities, manage licensing nationally and facilitate unlocking the economic potential of commercial gaming responsibly.”
Kevin Mullally ran the Missouri Gaming Commission during the period when riverboat casinos became common in the U.S. Most recently he was vice president of government relations and general counsel for Gaming Laboratories International LLC, which tests gaming equipment.
The WAM statement quoted him: “I am delighted to have been appointed as the inaugural CEO of the GCGRA. With my experienced colleagues, I look forward to establishing a robust regulatory body and framework for the UAE’s lottery and gaming industry.”
Jim Murren is a former chairman of the American Gaming Association and former chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International. Murren had been with MGM since 1998 and was chief executive officer and chairman from 2008-2020. He has worked with the Emirates before. Specifically the $9.2 billion CityCenter, which MGM was involved in, as well as Dubai World, which opened in 2009.
The UAE has a long history of banning gambling as do most Islamic nations except Lebanon and Egypt. However, hints that this policy might change have been noted in recent years. Such as in 2018 when the British liner Queen Elizabeth 2 and its deactivated slot machines was converted into a hotel in Dubai, one of the emirates. Or when Caesars opened an office in 2018. Or the fact that casino firms such as the Aria, MGM and the Bellagio have been involved in several construction projects in the emirates.
A likely motivation for the government is a way to raise tax revenues and help the UAE’s growing tourism industry. Wynn envisions a 12 percent tax rate.
Then last year, the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah announced a partnership with Nevada-based Wynn Resorts, with the gaming company’s role described as “subsequent management of an integrated resort.” Wynn would have a 40 percent share of the project in addition to a management contract. Most integrated resorts include a casino element. This $3.9 billion project, called Wynn Al Marjan Island, has a projected opening date of early 2027.
Wynn CEO Craig Billings has been dropping hints that the first UAE license could be issued soon. During a recent quarterly-earnings call, he told investors that the UAE was “the most exciting gaming market in decades.”
If that license is issued, the Al Marjan Island resort would be the only casino in the country. But it certainly might not be the last.