Hotel and casino operator Wynn Resorts's Chief Executive Craig Scott Billings confirmed the group will open a casino at the luxury resort it is building in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a first for the Gulf Arab region, where gambling has long been off-limits. The casino, first announced in January, will be located on a man-made island off the coast of Ras Al Khaimah and is expected to open in 2026.
According to local news, Ras Al Khaimah is currently writing gaming laws for the casino, using Singaporean and US regulations as its foundation, as Wynn Marjan plans its gaming operations in the emirate. It has also been confirmed that the property will cost $2 billion, with a management agreement on top, reports Hotelier Middle East. The casino will feature around 18,500 square meters in size, thus making it one of the 10 biggest casinos in the world, and almost double the size of Wynn’s Vegas property.
"The casino component, where at least for some period of time, we will be operating on our own, which makes it quite exciting, is shaping up to be somewhat larger than Wynn Las Vegas," Wynn Resorts CEO Craig Billings said during the group's Q3 earning call this week. "When you think about a market like that where for some period of time you will be the only operator, you certainly don't want to underbuild the casino, but you want to maintain that sense of energy."
Craig Billings, Wynn Resorts' CEO
According to the Q3 earnings call, Wynn is putting a high amount of focus on the project, with Billings noting that the project has “a very high return opportunity" for the firm. "That’s really the focus of our design and development efforts at the moment," the CEO said.
Earlier in the year, the hospitality chief also heralded the connectivity and diversity of Dubai, RAK, and the Emirates. He said: "The UAE is already a substantial destination for not only the region but for Europe, for Brits, for Germans, for folks from all over the place. So this is a significant customer acquisition opportunity and a really material extension of our brand."
"When we open that property, 95 percent of the world’s population will be within an eight-hour flight of a Wynn Resorts property,” the executive added at the time.
The emirate’s tourism development authority has already created a division specifically for regulating integrated resorts, with a new Department of Entertainment and Gaming Regulation also set up to "consider the social, cultural, and environmental landscape of the emirate and cover licensing, taxation, operational procedures, and consumer safeguards," according to Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA).
Ras Al Khaimah is one of the smaller and lesser-known of the seven UAE emirates. In the regional business center of Dubai, Caesars Palace currently has a resort without a casino and MGM Resorts International is building a resort.
The casino would mark a watershed moment for the Gulf, a region that has traditionally imposed stricter Islamic rules than other parts of the Middle East. The prospect of a new casino comes against the backdrop of intense competition in the region, with UAE vying with rapidly-opening Saudi Arabia to become the go-to destination.