When you think of enormous luxury casino buildings, you tend to think of Las Vegas, Nevada. If you know a little more than the average person about luxury casinos and where the most impressive such buildings in the world might be, you might also think of Macau, Singapore or Monte Carlo. You almost certainly wouldn't think of anywhere in the Middle East - but you may do so in future. That's because Wynn Resorts has won permission to build a new five-star luxury hotel and casino complex at Ras Al Khaimah, right in the heart of the United Arab Emirates.
The news is a massive boost for Wynn Resorts and could lead to a revolution in the gambling industry in the Middle East, but it could also lead to a huge demand for expertise from construction companies with experience in this field if other Emirates follow suit. The area has never been seriously considered by casino companies in the past because of strict Islamic rules, which theoretically prohibit the construction of any such facilities. Gambling has been off limits for as long as anyone remembers in the UAE, but times are changing and money talks. The local government can clearly see the benefit of bringing such a lucrative industry into the country, and that could open the door to others.
Why build there?
Those of you who don't know much about the casino industry other than the fact that Las Vegas is its Mecca might, with good reason, be asking why a company would focus its attention there rather than in parts of the world where it would be easier to ply their trade. There are a couple of good answers to that question. The first applies specifically to Wynn Resorts. When their super casino opens, they'll have one hundred per cent control of the market due to their exclusivity. Nobody else will have licensed premises, so all the money comes to them. Even if more casinos are built further down the line, being first to the market comes with inherent benefits. Wynn Resorts will have a material advantage. The company's stock is already on a high after billionaire investor Tilman Fertitta acquired a stake in it. This news could push it higher.
The second reason why the Middle East - and the UAE, in particular - has become viable is that online gambling will remain illegal in the country. Online gambling has become the enemy of brick-and-mortar casinos in every territory where it’s permitted. Casinos in Europe have to do battle against online casinos, and they frequently come off worse. Checking a casino sister site database reveals that there are more than five hundred online casinos with access to the UK market, which is Europe’s most profitable. In America, where the doors are slowly opening to online gambling and casinos, the big companies in Las Vegas and beyond might soon find themselves feeling the squeeze. That’s not likely to happen in the United Arab Emirates for a very long time. It might never happen at all.
Why is the UAE suddenly open for business?
We've talked about why the move might make sense for Wynn Resorts, but why does it make sense for the UAE after years of opposition? To understand that, we have to understand the situation in the broader Middle East. Saudi Arabia has spent much of the past decade modernizing and opening itself up to the wider world. The influx of sporting events we've seen in the past five years is evidence of that, from the introduction of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to the flurry of big boxing, wrestling and mixed martial arts events that have happened in the country. The Middle East is looking to diversify after years of being dependent on the oil economy, and tourism is the new battlefield. The UAE cannot compete with Saudi Arabia for tourism if it continues to turn away industries that attract tourists.
It was announced in January this year that the UAE would issue licenses for "gaming" without explicitly using the word "gambling," but it's now clear what was meant by the statement. Now that the meaning has become clear, it could pave the way for other Emirates to follow suit. That includes Dubai, where the government likes to build attractions that rival anything available in the west. There are some truly huge casinos in Las Vegas and Singapore. If Dubai decided it wanted to compete with them for size and prestige, that would result in multi-billion-dollar opportunities for construction companies.
Interestingly, Caesars Palace currently has a resort in Dubai but doesn't have a casino at the resort. MGM Resorts International - another massive casino company - is in the process of building a resort in Dubai. If licenses were granted to these well-established names, we could be looking at a whole new global hub for gambling.
What will the casino look like?
It's too early to say. All we know is that it's going to be enormous. Craig Scott Billings, the Chief Executive of Wynn Resorts, has said only that his company's new casino will be built on an artificial island off the Ras Al Khaimah coast and that it will be bigger than Wynn Las Vegas. That's significant because the Wynn Las Vegas hotel and casino complex is currently considered to be the company's flagship. It also sounds as if he intends to start work on the project soon, as he'd like to open the casino in 2026. Three years isn't much time to get a construction project of this size done.
Wynn Las Vegas is a stunning, iconic pair of curved buildings on the edge of the new Formula 1 Las Vegas racetrack and is visible for miles around. The thought of something even bigger is difficult to process, but that's what the company has in mind. It's too early for us to be able to confirm who's won the contract for the construction process, but it's likely to be a company-changing deal for the lucky party.