The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced the creation of a new federal authority that will oversee the development of a national lottery and commercial gaming industry, as the Gulf Arab nation seeks to diversify its economy and attract more tourists.
A new regulatory body for gaming
The General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA) was established by a presidential decree on Sunday, according to the state-run WAM news agency. The authority will be responsible for creating a “socially responsible and well-regulated gaming environment, ensuring that all participants adhere to strict guidelines and comply with the highest standards”.
The GCGRA will also coordinate regulatory activities, manage licensing nationally and facilitate unlocking the economic potential of commercial gaming responsibly . The authority will be headed by Jim Murren, a former chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, one of the world’s largest casino operators. Kevin Mullally, a former executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission, will serve as the inaugural CEO of the GCGRA .
A sign of opening up to gambling
The creation of the GCGRA is likely a sign that the UAE is on the verge of allowing gambling, which is generally prohibited in Islam and frowned upon by many conservative Muslims. The UAE is home to Dubai, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, which has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and the drop in oil prices. The emirate has been looking for ways to boost its revenue and attract more visitors, especially from Asia, where gambling is popular.
Casinos have long been rumored to be considered as a way to raise money in the UAE and boost its tourism industry. 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, in recent years, several major casino operators have expressed interest in entering the UAE market, including MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and Las Vegas Sands.
A potential lottery and gaming hub
The UAE already has some forms of gaming, such as duty-free car raffles at Dubai International Airport and online fantasy sports platforms. However, the establishment of the GCGRA suggests that the country is ready to take its gaming industry to the next level, by launching a national lottery and potentially allowing casinos and other forms of commercial gaming.
The UAE could become a regional hub for lottery and gaming, as it has a strategic location, a diverse population, a high disposable income and a reputation for luxury and innovation. The country could also benefit from the growing demand for gaming in Asia, especially China and India, which are two of its largest trading partners and sources of tourists.
However, the UAE will also have to balance its gaming ambitions with its cultural and religious values, as well as its relations with its neighbors, some of whom may not approve of gambling. The UAE will also have to ensure that its gaming industry is transparent, fair and ethical, and that it does not contribute to social problems such as addiction, crime and money laundering.