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Dubai Official: Don’t Bet on [...]

Dubai Official: Don’t Bet on Casinos in Emirate

Wynn Resorts is moving forward with plans for an integrated resort on Al-Marjan Island, United Arab Emirates (UAE). But Dubai is unlikely to follow suit.

Dubai Casino
Beachgoers sit in the sand in Dubai, above. A tourism official said the emirate is unlikely to soon embrace casinos. (Image: CNN)

Owing to bountiful oil reserves, UAE is the third-richest country in the world on a per capita basis, and one of the primary tourist destinations in the Middle East. But Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing CEO Issam Kazim said the city is unlikely to embrace casino gaming anytime soon.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no gaming that’s coming around the corner for us,” he said in an interview with Reuters earlier this week.

Gulf states, including UAE, traditionally have more restrictive gaming laws than other parts of the Middle East. But there are signs of liberalization, as highlighted by Wynn’s January announcement that it will build an integrated resort reportedly valued at $2 billion on the man-made Al-Marjan Island.

Wynn is partnering on the project with RAK Hospitality Holding LLC — a local hotel developer — and it’s estimated the US company’s stake is going to be around a third.

Dubai Definitely Desirable

Likely for fear of ruffling feathers in the emirate, gaming companies don’t overtly push the issue of casinos in Dubai. But it’s understandable why operators would like to see the city change course.

In the first quarter of 2022, Dubai welcomed 4 million international overnight visitors, more than tripling the number seen in the year-earlier period. Dubai notched 82% hotel occupancy in the first three months of this year — good for the best rate in the world. By comparison, first-quarter hotel occupancy rates in London and New York were 56% and 55.3%, respectively.

“Dubai’s ability to surpass other major global cities in key tourism indicators demonstrates the success of the far-reaching vision of His Royal Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to create a hub for business, investment, entrepreneurship and tourism that rivals the world’s best,” said Crown Prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in a statement.

Last month, Anthony Costa, regional president at Caesars Palace, told Reuters that the company would evaluate gaming in Dubai if the opportunity presents itself. Caesars Entertainment opened in Dubai in 2018, but it doesn’t have a casino. Nor does Caesars Bluewaters Dubai.

MGM Resorts International is building a hotel in Dubai. But the operator appears pessimistic about the likelihood of the casino being a near-term addition to the venue.

Wynn Could Set UAE Casino Table

Analysts expect Wynn could generate a 20% return on investment with its UAE venue. While it’s widely expected gaming won’t be a centerpiece of the property, it will feature a casino. If successful, it could be a motivator for other emirates to reevaluate gaming policy.

Other operators commented they’d evaluate the goings-on with Wynn’s UAE project, potentially setting the stage for more gaming development down the road.

On Tuesday, HKS Architects said it will be the architect for the Wynn property. The firm designed Venetian Macau, Palazzo Las Vegas, and Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas.

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