Age-old cultural beliefs are about to be tested as the Arabic Gulf transitions to economic diversity. Ras Al Khaimah, a lesser-known UAE emirate, and Wynn Resorts, an international hotel and casino operator, recently announced a $5.7 billion partnership to build a luxurious integrated resort. The upcoming Wynn Resorts has the potential to make the UAE the next big gambling nation. However, given that gambling is strictly prohibited under Islamic (sharia) law, the project raises more questions than it answers.
Potential Gambling License for Wynn
Wynn Resorts is awaiting a gaming license in Ras Al Khaimah, and the world is watching events with bated breath. There is still hope, despite reservations, that the casino behemoth will be permitted to operate in the Arabic jurisdiction. Although Wynn Resorts CEO Craig Billings claims the company is not overly concerned, the future of gambling in the United Arab Emirates remains uncertain.
“There should be no concern that there is a broader legalization process that needs to occur in order for gaming to occur in that property,” Billings said in August. While there may be discussions in other emirates about legalization or federal legalization, which would cover all emirates, I believe we will have our license for Ras Al Khaimah very soon.”
According to the CEO, the UAE is a potentially significant gambling destination, the main factor attracting the international company. If licensed, Wynn Resorts will have hit the jackpot, as it will own 40% of the company.
Uncertainty Regarding Legislation
Several discussions have taken place in recent years about the possibility of legalizing gambling in the UAE. According to recent reports, an international law firm has already begun the process of developing a policy that will be applicable throughout the country. However, various credible sources express reservations because the immediate parties to the country’s laws deny speculations about gambling legislation. It’s also unclear who gave the law firm permission to draft policies. Nonetheless, gambling legislation, as well as its developments, remain on the federal agenda. Government officials and significant stakeholders typically remain silent on the subject when making public statements. Most are hesitant to comment significantly on the possibility of legislation and the inclusion of a gambling area in the upcoming integrated resort on Al Marjan Island.
The Middle East’s Cultural Shift
For centuries, the UAE has relied solely on the lucrative oil business. However, as part of its diversification strategy, it has been exploring options in recent years, making room for other economic activities such as real estate, sports, and tourism. The country is seemingly very interested in the entertainment industry and is actively investing in strategic projects. It established a gaming regulation department in 2021 to oversee the development and operations of regulated resorts.
The Gambling Dilemma
Balancing the business and religious lanes is a huge challenge despite the progressive attitude. However, the gambling legislation is highly appealing to the country, as it stands to gain approximately $6.6 billion in gaming revenue annually. The upcoming Wynn Resort project on Al Marjan Island will feature a gaming area flanked by various luxurious attractions such as exquisite dining, deluxe rooms, and a shopping area. According to Wynn Resorts’ projections, casino goers will flock to the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. The company earned over $500 million in the second quarter and expects to earn more in the final quarter.
An Unprecedented Predicament
These figures are appealing to any country capable of collaborating with the company. The case of the UAE, on the other hand, is perplexingly unique, given that it operates under Islamic law. Sharia laws are based on the Koran, which forbids gambling. Legalizing or facilitating gambling in any way would go against the dominant Islamic religion. Regardless of religious beliefs, the UAE needs the project in more ways than one might think. If it allows the casino to operate, the UAE will be the first country in the Arabic Gulf to allow and profit from the contentious activity. However, it is important to note that post-pandemic rapid modernization and the ongoing wave of online casino legalization globally have altered the dynamics of the Middle East region. Other countries in the MENA region will likely follow suit, launching similar initiatives to avoid being outcompeted, particularly in the tourism sector.
The Ras Al Khaimah Resort is a promising but contentious project. Islam is known for its strict adherence to the Koran and Sharia laws, and deviating from the traditional path is difficult, even when huge profits are at stake. However, the UAE must make a decision soon. The country’s neighbors are hot on its tail, particularly in entertainment and tourism development. Slacking in any way can result in losses or failure to reach full potential.
- As per the Public Gambling Act of 1867, all Indian states, except Goa, Daman and Sikkim, prohibit gambling
- Land-based casinos are legalized, with certain guidelines, in Goa and Daman, as per the Goa, Daman and Diu Public Gambling Act 1976
- Land-based casinos, Online gambling and E-gaming (games of chance) are legalized in Sikkim under the Sikkim Online Gaming (Regulation) Rules 2009
- Only some Indian states have legalized online/regular lotteries as per and subject to the conditions laid down by state laws. Kindly refer to the same here
- Horse racing and betting on horse racing, including online betting, is permitted only in a licensed premise in select states. Kindly refer to the 1996 Judgement by the Supreme Court Of India here and for more information
- This article does not endorse or express the views of Qrius and/or any of its staff.
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