BetMGM’s Casino Project on Hold as Dubai Delays Casino Approvals

November 11th, 2023: A few months ago, Dubai made gaming headlines after approving the creation of a gambling regulatory authority similar to the UK’s Gambling Commission. The excitement was inevitable after BetMGM announced its plans to set up a regional gaming facility.

Now, the excitement hits a roadblock after Dubai delays the approval of casino resorts. This policy move is a temporary setback for BetMGM, which has previously announced its plans to set up a branded hotel in the region. With this delay in decision, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah have emerged as potential solid destinations for operators looking to set up their gaming facilities.

MGM Resorts opens a branded hotel 

MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle has expressed optimism for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to become a casino resort hub. He indicated that the project awaits approval from the Emirati authorities. In 2021, MGM Resorts International had recently opened a branded hotel in Dubai in partnership with Wasl Hospitality and Leisure.

The hotel, which features MGM Hotel, MGM Residences, and Bellagio Hotel, is part of BetMGM’s strategic efforts to enter the Emirati market in 2021. The project is designed with a flexible space coverage of 150,000 square feet. Hornbuckle also added that they are closely monitoring the developments in the current situation. 

Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah launch preparations

Dubai’s delays in their decisions put the spotlight on other destinations, including Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah. As the casino future of Dubai remains uncertain, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah are exploring the idea of opening a casino, and they are carving their niches. Yas Island is one of the potential sites under consideration by Abu Dhabi. This island boasts popular attractions such as the Yas Marina Formula One Circuit and the Warner Bros. theme park. 

Despite the setback, the plans of Wynn Resorts, nestled in Ras Al Khaimah, were not affected. Ras Al Khaimah has started its Wynn Al Marjan Island project, a $3.9 billion facility in the UAE. The project has a strong potential of becoming the first UAE property that features casino gaming. The project is scheduled for launch early in 2027. Ras Al Khaimah is home to tourist attractions like the Burj Khalifa and the Flamingo Beach. 

The delay in casino resort approval does not signify a downturn but a positive paradigm shift in the UAE’s gambling and financial landscape. Despite the setback, industry experts retain optimism for the long-term viability of UAE casino gaming. The recent development may be a setback to casino resort operators, but the race among contenders aiming to be the first to host casino resorts continues.