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Wynn Resorts partnering on multibillion-dollar resort in UAE

Updated January 25, 2022 - 10:33 pm

Wynn Resorts is partnering with an international developer to build a multibillion-dollar integrated resort in the United Arab Emirates, bringing the company’s signature luxury resort casino brand to a region that has historically prohibited gambling.

Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts announced Tuesday that it was partnering with Marjan and RAK Hospitality Holding to develop the 1,000-plus room resort, which will feature a high-end shopping mall, convention facilities, more than 10 restaurants and lounges, a spa and a gaming area.

The resort will be built on one of the four islands that make up Al Marjan Island, a man-made island that extends into the Arabian Gulf, offering “a pristine setting with spectacular views” of the surrounding gulf, beaches and marina, according to the press release announcing the project.

“Al Marjan Island is a pristine setting and an ideal greenfield location for us to create the one-of-a-kind guest experiences for which Wynn Resorts is renowned. The region offers tremendous potential for the hospitality and tourism industry, and we are excited about the prospect of developing an integrated resort in Ras Al Khaimah,” Wynn Resorts CEO Craig Billings said in a statement.

The announcement coincided with a statement from Ras Al-Khaimah’s Tourism Development Authority that said it has created new Department of Entertainment and Gaming Regulation that will regulate “integrated resorts,” a term typically used to describe a large property that includes both a hotel and casino.

Islam, the official religion of the UAE, prohibits gambling. But Ras al-Khaimah, the northern most emirate in the UAE, has been pushing in recent years to grow its tourism industry, which has been dominated by country’s tourism and commercial capital of Dubai.

The new division will follow “global best practices in the regulation of gaming that operate as part of integrated resorts across various jurisdictions worldwide,” and “will consider the social, cultural, and environmental landscape of the Emirate and cover licensing, taxation, operational procedures, and consumer safeguards,” the tourism authority said.

“The foremost priority of this new division is to create a robust framework that will ensure responsible gaming at all levels,” it added.

Marjan CEO Abdulla Al Abdool said in a statement that the new development highlights Ras Al-Khaimah’s growing tourism profile.

“The integrated development, featuring a world-class hotel, entertainment and gaming amenities, will add to the Emirate’s destination strategy to attract tourists from across the world,” Marjan CEO Abdulla Al Abdool said in a statement.

Wynn Resorts will make a “significant foreign direct investment” to develop the resort, the company said, and J.P. Morgan analyst Joseph Greff expects the casino giant to see good returns.

In a note to investors Tuesday, Greff noted that the resort would be in a “tourism rich market with proximity to an affluent local population” of roughly 9 million people, along with supportive travel infrastructure with the Dubai International Airport — the fourth largest airport in the world — just 45 minutes away from Al Marjan Island.

“We look at this beach resort as a super-regional-more-than-just-gaming high-end resort with solid [return on investment] prospects,” Greff wrote.

Wynn won’t be the first Las Vegas-based gaming giant in the UAE, but it could be the first with gambling. Caesars opened two beachfront resorts in 2018, both of which are nongaming, and construction is underway in Dubai for three nongaming luxury hotels from MGM Resorts International.

Gambling itself remains rare in the Middle East, with only Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia having casinos.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.