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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has created a federal authority to regulate commercial gaming as the country takes another step towards legalising lottery and casinos.

The news was confirmed by the state-owned Emirates News Agency (WAM) on 3 September. The newly created regulator is called the General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA).

It has pledged to introduce a “world-leading regulatory framework” for national lottery and commercial gaming in UAE, which looks increasingly likely to become the first Gulf state to legalise land-based casino gambling.

There was no mention of online gambling in the WAM press release, the introduction of which seems extremely unlikely at this stage.

US casino giant Wynn Resorts expects to “soon” obtain a licence from the regulator after last year announcing plans to build a $3.9bn integrated resort in Ras Al Khaimah, which is the UAE’s sixth largest city and an emirate around 45 minutes away from Dubai.

The GCGRA has looked to the US for its leadership team.

Gaming Laboratories International veteran and former Missouri Gaming Commission director Kevin Mullally has been appointed CEO of the new regulator, while the authority will be chaired by ex-MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren.

Murren said: “I am delighted at the appointment of Kevin Mullally. He brings unparalleled category experience and will be invaluable in creating a fit-for-purpose regulatory framework for the UAE.”

UAE government officials have said there are no imminent plans to allow gambling, but casino operators are increasingly confident that change is being considered as the country looks to protect its reputation as a tourism hotspot.

Bloomberg Intelligence gaming analyst Angela Hanlee believes the UAE could generate $6.6bn in gaming revenue annually with the potential to surpass Singapore, which is home to Las Vegas Sands’ renowned Marina Bay Sands resort.

Permitting and regulating gambling would be a major change for the UAE where Islam provides the main basis for legislation. Gambling is prohibited under Islam and is currently illegal in the country, where offenders can be fined or sentenced to two years in prison.

Bloomberg further estimates that Dubai would be the biggest beneficiary of the UAE’s push into commercial gambling.

“The emirate has already seen an influx of newcomers and tourists largely stemming from its handling of the pandemic and attractiveness as a wealth haven,” wrote Bloomberg reporter Omar Tamo.

“The introduction of casinos could further boost its tourism sector — a key pillar of the emirate’s economy — that’s been booming and escaped much of the geopolitical and economic uncertainty elsewhere in the world,” he added.

Elsewhere, Jon Gambrell, Gulf and Iran news director for the Associated Press, believes the creation of a federal regulator suggests that Abu Dhabi, the country’s capital, will oversee the potential operation of casinos in the country.

He also suggested that new casinos could increase the risk of money laundering, with Dubai’s real-estate market described as a “haven” for the financial assets of criminals.

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