For years, diplomats and executives have been discreetly speculating about it, but now global casino operators are setting their sights on a once-impossible prize: gambling in the United Arab Emirates.
Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), one of the seven emirates, said earlier this year that it will regulate gaming at some resorts. On the same day, Wynn Resorts, a Las Vegas casino giant, announced that it would create a gaming resort on a man-made island.
The announcements could represent a watershed moment for the Gulf, which has typically imposed stricter Islamic restrictions than the rest of the Middle East and has long prohibited gambling.
Those looking for a flutter should visit Lebanon’s Casino du Liban or certain upscale Egyptian hotels.
However, things may be changing.
According to two sources acquainted with the topic, gambling in some form will be authorized in the UAE, but it will be up to each emirate to decide whether and how to control it, similar to how Sharjah restricts alcohol sales in contrast to other emirates. The insiders suggested it will happen shortly, although they didn’t specify when.
Should RAK pave the way for other emirates to follow, other major casino and hotel brands that have ventured into the UAE might benefit — with many eyes on the bigger and glitzier prize of Dubai, a worldwide tourist magnet where gambling is now outlawed.
Caesars Palace, which opened in Dubai in 2018 and is the only resort in the globe without a casino, told Reuters that it will look into the prospect of offering gambling in the city.
“That acceptance now that there is going to be the potential of gaming in the UAE, in whatever form it’s going to be, allows people like Caesar’s and MGM as well to look at that closely,” said Anthony Costa, regional president at Caesars Palace. “I think it’s wonderful.”
“Like anybody, if a license can be bid for, any global gaming company is going to want to be actively involved in the conversation,” he added.
Digging has begun on another artificial outcrop about 10 kilometers along Dubai’s coast from the Caesars resort to build a luxury resort by Las Vegas gambling stalwart MGM Resorts International.
When asked whether it would consider introducing gaming at the resort, MGM said “gaming has not been part of the planning and there are no updates to our plans.”
A year ago, Dubai, the world’s most liberal emirate, refuted rumors that many hospitality venues had been granted gambling licenses, which had been spreading on social media and among the business sector.
Requests for comment on RAK’s intention to regulate gambling and whether the UAE government’s media office, as well as the media offices of the emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah, did not receive a response.