Dubai’s Casino Gaming Decision Looms Over Wynn Resort’s Project in UAE

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Wynn Resorts’ ambitious integrated resort project, Wynn Al Marjan Island, in the comparatively lesser-known emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, faces an uncertain future. This came to light in the context of a possible procedural shift in the neighboring city-state, Dubai. If Dubai were to sanction casino gaming—a decision that could transform both its tourism industry as well as the region’s gaming sector—Wynn’s venture may find itself facing significant challenges, according to a leading analyst.

This apprehension was shared by Vitaly Umansky, a senior analyst with Seaport Research, as he addressed attendees at the recent G2E Asia conference held in Macau. Wynn’s project in Ras Al Khaimah could be at a disadvantage if Dubai begins to allow regulated gaming. Dubai’s status as the most popular tourist destination of the seven emirates could outweigh Ras Al Khaimah, which Umansky reminded, despite its charm, does not provide competitive economic benefits on a similar scale.

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Interestingly, Umansky’s words of caution arrived just days after he enhanced Wynn’s rating to a ‘buy’ status, setting a price target of $116 from a prior ‘hold’ rating. This projected estimation suggests a staggering, near 26% chance for potential growth from the earlier recording on June 4.

Umansky opined that the region could potentially accommodate more than one integrated resort. However, the prime risk for the property would depict a scenario where a casino opens in Dubai rather than Abu Dhabi, an occurrence he admits is more likely to transpire.

The analyst anticipates that Wynn’s UAE integrated resort could bring in up to $300 million annually. This assertion comes in the wake of Wynn confirming last month that their expected investment in the UAE operation would amount to around $900 million, with the Las Vegas-based gaming conglomerate becoming a minority partner in the venture.

Despite the promising prospects of Dubai becoming a fertile gaming market—the most enticing among the UAE emirates— there’s no certainty that regulators will green-light casino gaming. It is pertinent to note that no definitive gaming regulations have been established in the UAE following the creation of a specialized governing body last autumn. It appears that the individual emirates will have the autonomy to either accept or veto casinos, with Abu Dhabi and Dubai emerging as sound choices along with Ras Al Khaimah.

Umansky predicts that a political agreement among these emirates is imminent, reiterating that smaller emirates are essentially nonstarters.

If Dubai permits an integrated resort, then MGM Resorts International, which is currently developing a non-gaming hotel in the city-state, could be the prime beneficiary. The US casino giant’s executives have suggested that there is ample space reserved for a potential casino and a swift pivot to create a gaming venue if the regulators provide approval.

Furthermore, MGM is establishing three hotels in the UAE and has considered venturing into the gaming industry in Abu Dhabi, provided it allows casinos and Dubai refrains from doing so.

The Wynn’s venture in UAE, tentatively set to open doors in early 2027, is being designed on a grand scale but with a minimal percentage of its 5.6 million square feet dedicated to the casino floor. This indicates that the property’s other amenities such as luxurious accommodations, fine dining, and high-end entertainment will overshadow betting—rendering its vibe more akin to Las Vegas than Macau.

Umansky points out that betting is still perceived as a taboo in most parts of the Arab world. For Arab Muslims, there’s a stark difference between gambling in Europe or the U.S. and doing so in their backyard. As such, Wynn’s strategic decision to build an integrated resort that places a higher premium on amenities over gambling could prove to be a wise and culturally sensitive choice in this region.