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Regulatory changes driving a global boom in casino tourism

Regulatory changes driving a global boom in casino tourism

Las Vegas and Monte Carlo have historically cornered the market in casino tourism, but the landscape has started to change dramatically in recent years.

The emergence of online casino platforms has played an integral role in attracting a much wider audience to popular games such as blackjack and roulette.

Several Asian countries have capitalised on this growing phenomenon by allowing land-based casino operators to lay down roots in their borders.

South America is another developing market, with Brazil leading the charge to grab a slice of the increasingly lucrative global gambling pie.

However, many experts in the sector are forecasting that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is on course to become the ‘next big thing’ in casino tourism.

Two recent developments are being cited as the primary reasons why millions of people will start flocking to the region over the next few years.

The establishment of the General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2023 was a seismic development.

Led by industry veterans Jim Murren and Kevin Mullally, the new organisation will work towards creating a formal licensing and regulatory infrastructure in the UAE.

This marks a significant change in policy for the country, which had previously outlawed all forms of gambling due to its strict religious beliefs.

A desire among the UAE’s forward-thinking rulers has triggered a mentality shift, much of which is fuelled by a desire to be viewed in more favourable terms globally.

Casino tourism will play an integral role in helping the UAE move with the times and will be led by the construction of an ambitious resort in Ras Al Khaimah.

The $4 billion Wynn Resort will be an important step along the road to the UAE becoming a genuine rival to casino destinations such as Las Vegas and Monte Carlo.

The project will build on the country’s established tourism and hospitality infrastructure by adding an exciting new layer of luxury into proceedings.

With tourists expected to flock to the resort when it opens its doors in early 2027, their arrival has been widely tipped to spark further developments in the region.

Speaking at a recent conference hosted by JP Morgan, MGM Resorts International Chief Executive Officer Bill Hornbuckle predicted that casino tourism will soon take off in the UAE.

“I think they will start with lottery and go into digital gaming, and probably the actual first license will be issued in Abu Dhabi, followed potentially by what’s happening with Wynn in Ras Al Khaimah,” Hornbuckle said.

“Then we would hope either through an opportunity in Abu Dhabi or in Dubai, we will go after one – recognising that the ruler, the leader in each emirate has to approve it. That is how that works.”

With gaming giants such as Wynn and MGM eager to make their mark in the UAE, it will naturally follow that other Middle East nations reassess their stance on gaming.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are ideal candidates, especially as they will not want to be left behind by developments in the UAE.

With the Middle East now a big player in the sports tourism sector, branching out into casino tourism is unquestionably a natural step to take.

While there are several cultural and legal hurdles still to overcome, developments in the UAE will prove to be the catalyst for the sector to boom in the Middle East.

Whether the region will ever challenge the established casino destinations remains open for debate, but it would be no surprise to see it happen given the resources at their disposal.