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UAE Forms Gaming Authority as Sports Flock to the Middle East

  • Former MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren will head the UAE’s new gaming board as it could be the first Gulf state to legalize casinos.
  • Wynn Resorts has already announced plans to build a $3.9 billion gaming resort in the UAE.
The UAE could become the first Gulf state to legalize casinos.
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via USA TODAY Sports

As the United Arab Emirates continues investing in the global sports economy, the country will launch a new federal gaming regulator to potentially serve as a precursor to legal sports betting and gambling. 

Former MGM Resorts International CEO and chairman Jim Murren has been named chairman to the board of directors of the UAE’s new General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority, which the country’s press agency says will introduce a framework for “national lottery and commercial gaming.” Former Missouri Gaming Commission executive director Kevin Mullally has been named CEO. 

The UAE could potentially become the first Gulf state to legalize casinos, which have historically been illegal in the region since Islam prohibits gambling. 

Wynn Resorts has already announced plans to build a $3.9 billion gaming resort in the UAE, and Bloomberg estimated that the country could make $6.6 billion in annual gaming revenue.

Abu Dhabi United Group, a fund owned by the UAE government’s royal family, is the majority owner of City Football Group — the global network of 13 soccer teams spanning Manchester City, NYCFC, Brazil’s Bahia, Mumbai FC, and others. Both UFC and Formula 1 regularly host events in Abu Dhabi: UFC’s next UAE fight is scheduled for Oct. 21 and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is scheduled for Nov. 26. 

UAE sovereign wealth funds have shown interest in investing in an NBA team, while neighboring Qatar already purchased a stake in the NBA’s Washington Wizards and NHL’s Washington Capitals.

The NBA will host two preseason games this October in Abu Dhabi as part of the league’s partnership signed in 2022 with the UAE’s tourism department.

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