UAE establishes federal gambling regulator

By Zak Thomas-Akoo

The United Arab Emirates has officially established the General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA), which is charged with creating the country’s regulatory framework for national lottery and commercial gaming.

The United Arab Emirates’ state-run news agency WAM announced the establishment of the regulator late on Sunday (3 September).

The GCGRA will be responsible for coordinating regulatory activities in the Emirates, which includes managing licensing.

It is still unclear what form the final regulations will take, with many questions still unanswered. These include exactly what forms of gambling the UAE will permit and whether there will be an online component.

Questions also persist on how this links to Wynn Resort’s ongoing development of a new casino on Al-Marjan Island in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah.

In an earnings call for Wynn's second quarter results, Wynn CEO Craig Billings said he expected Wynn's Ras Al Khaimah licence to be issued "imminently". It is unclear whether the announcement of a federal model means that Wynn will be required to reapply.

Another question that remains is whether the countries two existing raffles, Emirates Draw and Mahzooz, will be regulated by the GCGRA, through its regulation of lotteries in the Emirates.

Kevin Mullally tapped as chief executive

Former Missouri Gaming Commission executive director Kevin Mullally will lead the new regulator as its chief executive. More recently, Mullally spent 17 years at Gaming Laboratories International (GLI).

Meanwhile, Jim Murren will chair the organisation's board of directors. Murren led MGM Resorts as chairman and CEO from 2008 to 2020.

“I am delighted to have been appointed as the inaugural CEO of the GCGRA,” said Mullally. “With my experienced colleagues, I look forward to establishing a robust regulatory body and framework for the UAE’s lottery and gaming industry.”

Murren added: “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.”

Consultants push UAE for federal approach to gambling regulation

According to iGB sources, GLI has taken the lead on consulting on the creation of the UAE’s regulatory framework.

Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, a gaming consulting and market research firm, also played a supporting role in this work. The consultant has historically involved itself more in digital offerings, leading to speculation the UAE indeed plans for there to be an online offering.

These firms pushed for the government to handle gambling regulation on a federal level, as opposed to being the responsibility of individual emirates.

Sources also said the UAE plans on establishing a 25% revenue tax on mass market gambling, with premium gaming subject to an 8% tax.

Wynn’s $3.9bn planned UAE casino development

The establishment of the new regulator comes as Wynn begins construction for its Al-Marjan casino.

The development, which broke ground recently, is due to be completed by 2027. Wynn holds a minority stake in the venture, with 60% of the business owned by the operator's local partners.

The GCGRA will likely be the organisation that provides Wynn the licence for its $3.9bn casino development. However, question marks remain over how this will work in practice.

At present, according to UAE federal law, any person who engages in gambling can be subject to two years in prison and an AED50,000 (£10,700/$13,600/€12,600) fine.

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