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The United Arab Emirates established a federal “commercial gaming” authority this week, a move that could see it become the first Gulf nation to allow gambling and casinos in the Muslim-majority region, the Middle East Eye reported.
State-affiliated media announced the creation of the General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA) to “introduce a world-leading regulatory framework for a national lottery and commercial gaming.”
The GCGRA will be led by Kevin Mullaly, who previously served as the executive director of the US state of Missouri’s gaming commission.
Although UAE officials have made no statement about allowing gambling, casinos have long been considered as a way for the resource-rich country to boost its revenues from its tourism industry.
Casinos are uncommon across the Middle East, where many countries forbid them along with other forms of gambling.
Last year, the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah in the UAE made a $4 billion deal with the Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts for a new hotel resort. Although officials did not label it as a gambling hotel, Wynn Resorts mentioned that gaming would constitute “four percent” of the resort’s total assets.
Gaming analysts estimate that the Emirates’ potential annual gambling revenue could top $6 billion, according to the Telegraph.
Even so, some remain skeptical that the UAE will become a Gulf-based Las Vegas, noting that the Emirates will focus more on dining and theatre shows than on drinking and casinos.
Still, over the past few years, the UAE has moved to loosen laws on consuming alcohol.