The UAE prepares to legalise gambling with new regulatory body

The UAE government announced, on 3 September, that it plans to formally establish the General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA) to build and oversee the regulatory framework for national lottery and commercial gaming in the Emirates.

The GCGRA will be responsible for coordinating regulatory activities, which includes managing licensing. “It will facilitate unlocking the economic potential of commercial gaming responsibly,” said WAM, the official news agency.

Gambling is prohibited in Islam, and this forms the basis for the federal and local emirate laws that currently prohibit all forms of gambling, as well as the advertising of any form of gaming in the UAE. Only certain limited competitions, such as raffles, are allowed in the UAE, subject to prior permission.

However, US casino operator Wynn Resorts unveiled plans in April for a USD3.9 billion integrated resort development with a “gaming area” on the man-made Al Marjan Island in Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), one of the UAE’s seven emirates.

When the deal was announced last year, the RAK Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) said it was establishing a new division focused on the regulation of integrated resorts. The foremost priority of this new division would be to create a robust framework that will ensure ‘responsible gaming’ at all levels.

Craig Billings, CEO of Wynn Hotels, told shareholders in an earnings call in August that the resort expects to have a licence for gaming operations in Ras Al Khaimah “imminently”. “There should be no concern that there is a broader legalisation process in order for gaming to occur in that property,” he told shareholders.

The GCGRA is to be chaired by Jim Murren, former CEO of MGM Resorts International (MGM), while Kevin Mullally, previously VP of government relations and general counsel at Gaming Laboratories International LLC, has been hired as CEO.

“I look forward to establishing a robust regulatory body and framework for the UAE’s lottery and gaming industry,” Mullally said on his new appointment, according to WAM.

“It is evident that the UAE will establish a modern and robust legal framework for its gaming industry, likely drawing inspiration from the exemplary practices seen in Singapore,” said Zana Jablan Musa, Director of Operations, Sovereign Corporate Services Middle East and PRO Partner Group.

“Over time, we’ve noticed that each Emirate tends to have its own way of regulating things. We’re interested to see how they’ll handle the task of regulating gaming and casinos in their areas, while still adhering to the federal rules and regulations.”

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