The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has established a regulatory body for “commercial gaming,” a potential step that could open the door for casino licenses in the country where gambling is currently prohibited. The newly formed General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA) will oversee regulatory activities, licensing management, and aim to tap into the economic potential of commercial gaming, according to the official WAM news agency.
While the statement did not explicitly mention casinos or clarify the definition of “gaming,” key figures appointed to lead the authority have significant experience in the gaming industry. The CEO of GCGRA, Kevin Mullally, previously served as the executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission, responsible for regulating riverboat casinos in the US state.
Mullally expressed his commitment to establishing a robust regulatory framework for the UAE’s lottery and gaming sector. The board of directors of GCGRA is chaired by James Murren, former chairman of the American Gaming Association, a trade group representing the US casino industry.
It’s important to note that gambling is prohibited under Islamic law in the UAE, where approximately 90 percent of the population consists of foreign residents. In 2022, Wynn Resorts, a US-based casino operator, announced plans to develop an “integrated resort” featuring gaming facilities in the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah, one of the UAE’s seven members.
Preliminary construction work has already commenced for Wynn Al Marjan Island, scheduled to open in early 2027. While reports of the UAE considering the lifting of the Gulf-wide ban on gambling have circulated for years, the government has made a series of liberalizing reforms in various areas, such as allowing unmarried couples to cohabit, relaxing alcohol restrictions, and offering long-term residencies.
Additionally, the UAE adopted a Western-style Saturday-Sunday weekend format last year, a move seen as an effort to remain competitive in attracting talent and tourism, especially in light of growing regional competition from neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.