UAE Looks Set to Legalize Gambling

(Photo Credit: Heather Gill/Unsplash)
(Photo Credit: Heather Gill/Unsplash)

Sign up for smart news, insights, and analysis on the biggest financial stories of the day.

A lot of things can get you in trouble in the United Arab Emirates, but gambling will no longer be one of them.

The Persian Gulf nation, which has historically banned gambling under its conservative religious laws, established a new governmental body for regulating the industry late Sunday. The move suggests the country is laying the groundwork for a change in its laws — not to mention a juicy new revenue stream.

Rolling The Dice

The Gulf states have been eager to display a sense of modernization to attract more international tourism, although that commercial drive has sometimes run into some cognitive dissonance with the countries’ morality laws, as beer giants like Anheuser-Busch discovered when Qatar announced two days before the 2022 World Cup started that it wouldn’t allow alcohol to be sold in stadiums.

The UAE legalizing gambling would suggest that commercial forces could grab the upper hand in that particular tug-of-war:

  • The UAE appears to be tapping American expertise as it readies itself for gamblers. Former MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren will sit as chair of the new gambling watchdog, while Kevin Mullally, an ex-VP and general counsel of Gaming Laboratories, will be CEO.
  • Bloomberg Intelligence estimated that if a UAE gaming industry were to reach a similar proportion of the country’s GDP to Singapore, it would translate to around $6.6 billion in revenue per year for the Gulf nation.

Harshing the Buzz: While the UAE tries to sweet-talk foreign tourists, it’s simultaneously headed for some elevated geopolitical tensions. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that US, UK, and EU officials will start to exert pressure this week on the UAE to stop shipments of products which have military uses to Russia.