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Dubai Puts On Hold Plans To License Casino Operators, While Ras Al Khaimah And Abu Dhabi Push Forward

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Following the formation of the framework responsible for legalized gambling by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) two months ago, aka during September, it appeared that Dubai would move quickly in terms of starting the process of licensing operators and officially debuting casinos. But that didn’t happen as it apparently set aside those plans, prompting the emirates of Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi to take its place in the process which means that they may be the first to begin licensing operators and bring in their first casinos, an individual familiar with the topic said.

Location selection:

The Emirate of Abu Dhabi is currently in the midst of planning a comprehensive casino opening process, as it is currently deciding on its location. Options include the Yas Marina Formula One Circuit, a plot of land close to the town’s harbor and Yas Island known for its Warner Bros. and Ferrari World theme parks that were built here.

As for the aforementioned Ras Ai Khaimah, an emirate located in the north of the UAE and 45-minutes from Dubai by car, Wynn Resorts Ltd., casino mogul from Las Vegas, has revealed plans for a new integrated resort (IR), an investment worth $3.9 billion, which will open in 4 years, aka in 2027. Relatedly, when discussing the matter during a telephone conversation in August, Craig Billings, the CEO of Wynn, commented according to BNN Bloomberg: “The company expects to receive its gaming license for Ras Al Khaimah soon.” Also, every leader of each of the 7 emirates will have the opportunity to determine if and when they grant license.

Spokesmen for the Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi media offices declined to comment on the topic. On a related note, the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism also not made any comment, nor has the media office of the federal government.

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Furthermore, the UAE’s regulated market has the potential to beat Singapore when it comes to income, even though the profitability visibility is small as the government hasn’t established a tax structure. Compared to Singapore, the UAE’s gambling income per year has the potential to come to $6.6 billion which means it will beat Singapore, and the hinted gambling costs per tourist could drop below those of Macau and the aforementioned Singapore. This is regardless of almost identical spending by visitors to the aforementioned UAE, if Dubai’s overcrowded fancy hotels are any indication.

The Israel-Hamas war won’t stop plans to bring casinos to both emirates:

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As every emirate is focused on its plans to start debuting casinos, a minimum 1 industry CEO said: “The Israel-Hamas war that erupted last month hasn’t changed our thinking.” On an industry trade show on October 10, Bill Hornbuckle, commented: “Irrespective of what’s happened in the past couple of days which is extremely tragic, we’re very progressive and excited by what could happen there. We think there’ll be three or four [casinos] in the emirates. It’s up to each ruler to decide what they want to do and where they want to do it.”

Following few months of dialogue, the government of Dubai, or rather senior government officials, made a decision that gambling isn’t a prime priority for the said city. The primary reason for this is that Dubai has no problem attracting tourists. In this regard, Hornbuckle said: “I am still hopeful gaming would happen at a resort MGM is developing in Dubai with local developer Wasl, which is backed by Dubai’s ruler. We have a project which is now underway that we began to work on back in 2015 — it is on Plateau Island, it’s at the base of Jumeirah beach and the base of Burj Al Arab, they look at each other. We’re positive. I’d love to be in Dubai with an operating company that has a casino in it, but one step and one day at a time.”

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At this point, it is still unclear how long the city can set aside any plans to officially debut casinos, and there is a possibility that authorities may reconsider the original plan if the situation changes. Meanwhile, they are reviewing the prospect of debuting a poker series in the city.

Moreover, whether Dubai debuts casinos or not, it may still profit from the large number of guest traffic for casinos in Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi.

Big change:

The casino’s debut will be a big step in the direction of change for the country, where according to Islamic or Shariah law, which is the mainstay of the law-making, any form of gambling is banned and non-legal in the UAE, meaning anyone who breaks the law will face charges or be sentenced to 2 years in jail, and possibly both.

Even though the aforementioned plans to launch casinos in the country don’t yet have the solid foundation, the country is currently considering granting 1 casino permit to each emirate, which would officially allow them to enter the beneficial casino market, while maintaining increases in line with controls.

What’s more, during September, the Accor Hotels Group revealed that the Banyan Tree resort will take the place of Caesars in Dubai at a property owned by Dubai Holding LLC. The separation with one of the most known names in the entire casino industry happened only several days after the UAE revealed the establishment of a lottery and gaming regulatory body, which president is the previous CEO of MGM, Jim Murren. To add more information, Caesars officially opened the said resort 5 years ago in 2018, with the aim of owning a casino, according to information provided by CEO Thomas Reeg during last year’s earnings call.

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