Betting On Green Pocket, Is No Zero Sum Game In Desert UAE

It may be illegal–‘Haram’–under the strictures of Islamic law but the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is fast approaching legalising gambling in the conservative, energy-rich region that, increasingly, is becoming a playground for Western and other hedonists.

Led by Wynn Resorts, who have launched a US$3.9 billion project (£3.1bn) to open an “integrated” resort–presumably with an attendant casino–in the UAE’s Ras Al Khaimah emirate, US-based gambling heavy-hitters have been eyeing-up the riches of The Gulf for some time.

The dichotomy of such a rigidly traditional region breaking with religious teaching and allowing gambling has not been lost on observers.

But the UAE’s official WAM news agency has now announced the formation of a General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA), to be established and led by American gambling veterans Jim Murren, as Chair, and Kevin Mullally as CEO.

“With my experienced colleagues, I look forward to establishing a robust regulatory body and framework for the UAE’s lottery and gaming industry,” said Mullally, a former Executive Director of the Missouri Gaming Commission and leader of testing and certification provider Gaming Laboratories International.


Murren, for his part, was Chair and CEO of MGM Resorts International for 12-years, until 2020.

“The GCGRA will create a socially responsible and well-regulated gaming environment, ensuring that all participants adhere to strict guidelines and comply with the highest standards,” said WAM in its announcement.

“It will coordinate regulatory activities, manage licensing nationally and facilitate unlocking the economic potential of commercial gaming responsibly.”

The move by the confederation of seven emirates comes amid growing economic competition in The Gulf region between the UAE and big brother neighbour Saudi Arabia.

The UAE-Saudi-English football Premier League nexus is already well established, as is Dubai as a locus for shoppers, influencers and assorted lotus eaters.

As Saudi Arabia, led by its controversial Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, seeks to diversify its economy, fuelled by its massive sovereign wealth fund, it would appear that the UAE, home to the world’s highest per capita number of millionaires, is hoping to steal a march on its frenemy desert kingdom.

Financial experts Bloomberg estimate that land-based gambling, abetted by the increased tourism, could generate some US$6.6 billion a year (£5.25bn) for the UAE.

To which this reporter adds a cautionary…Inshallah.

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