Analysts see United Arab Emirates as the next Las Vegas

  • 5 min read
Analysts see United Arab Emirates as the next Las Vegas

The United Arab Emirates, where nearly three-quarters of the population adheres to Islam—a religion that views gambling as harmful—could one day rival Las Vegas as a leading casino market.

Despite a region-wide gaming ban in the Middle East, the UAE is establishing a gaming regulatory framework that allows each of its seven emirates to host at least one integrated resort. These resorts will combine casinos with hotels, restaurants, entertainment, and other attractions.

One such development is already underway: Wynn Resorts is constructing a $3.9 billion integrated resort on the man-made Al Marjan Island in Ras Al Khaimah, announced in 2022. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are also slated for casino resorts.

According to CBRE Institutional Research, these three properties alone could generate up to $8.6 billion in annual gaming revenue, surpassing the $8.4 billion generated by the major properties on the Las Vegas Strip in 2023, as reported by Gaming Control Board Senior Economic Analyst Michael Lawton.

CBRE analysts John DeCree and Colin Mansfield stated in a recent report that UAE represents one of the most compelling opportunities in global gaming. They led a team to the UAE in early May to study the market.

Mansfield noted that casinos in the UAE would attract high-end Middle Eastern customers, creating a new visitor base for luxury gaming lounges, restaurants, and other attractions in Strip resorts. The UAE is a way to expand your brand’s global reach with a new market that’s potentially never seen or visited Las Vegas,” Mansfield told The Nevada Independent. “We like the financial aspect of diversifying cash flows.”

DeCree added that given the existing luxury hotels and restaurants in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the UAE could develop a character similar to Las Vegas, where non-gaming spending constitutes 65 percent of the revenue.

“I think it is reasonable to expect the UAE will be the Las Vegas of the Middle East,” DeCree said.

With an established tourism industry and around 200,000 hotel rooms, the UAE offers “a high propensity for luxury and consumer spending, a business-friendly operating environment, strong existing transportation and lodging infrastructure, and virtually no gaming competition,” according to DeCree.

DeCree anticipates the UAE market will resemble Singapore’s, where two integrated resorts, operated by Las Vegas Sands and Malaysia-based Genting Group, generate 40 percent of their revenue from non-gaming activities. Together, Singapore’s casinos earned $3.4 billion in gaming revenue in 2023.

The first step for the UAE will be to lift the gaming ban. The analysts expect the UAE to follow a path similar to its 2020 relaxation of rules prohibiting activities like alcohol consumption by non-Muslims. Gaming could be decriminalized through a federal decree or changes to the criminal and penal code.

“We anticipate these legislative changes to be forthcoming in the next few months,” CBRE stated, suggesting the decision may have already been made but not yet publicly announced. “We wouldn’t necessarily expect a very public announcement.”

The UAE’s regulatory framework is still developing, ten months after the establishment of the General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA), overseen by former MGM Resorts chairman and CEO Jim Murren and led by former Missouri gaming regulator Kevin Mullally as CEO.

Murren declined to comment on the process last fall, and Mansfield said CBRE couldn’t disclose their UAE contacts. However, the analysts predict an “operator-friendly framework” for the GCGRA.

“Everyone has been publicly restrained from commenting, and we’ve been following UAE media, which fueled our thesis on the potential regulatory structure,” Mansfield said.