The United Arab Emirates is about to build one of the biggest casino structures in the world as Las Vegas-based Wynn seeks to expand the industry into the Middle East.

Details of Wynn UAE are only now coming to light but on an earnings call with CEO Craig Billings last week. In it he explained to investors to sheer size of the project, known as Wynn Marjan.

The plan, according to Billings, is to build a casino out of the sea and transform a section of Ras Al Khaimah into a gambling and entertainment paradise.

Designs remain at the sketch stage for now but a new consortium focused on gaming has been set up in the UAE.

Wynn Marjan casino Ras Al Khaimah
There is plenty of room on the artificial Marjan island for a Wynn resort

What Is Wynn Planning?

According to the latest details, Wynn want to build a mega resort – bigger than their offering in Las Vegas – out in the Gulf. Wynn Marjan will be based on Marjan Island, a complex of artificial island semi-atolls 20 miles down the seafront from downtown Ras Al Khaimah.

The resort will feature entertainment stations, a 1,000-room hotel, 10 restaurants, a spa, shopping venues, and a convention facility. The plan is to open to the public in 2026.

But right now there are still no concrete details on whether a gambling pit will be part of the package. Billings branded it a venture into a “tremendous non-gaming leisure and luxury market”, adding: “Given that it’s a man-made island without any existing development, it’s an incredibly flexible location on which to plan.”

There are already a number of hotels and resorts on the Marjan complex, including Hilton and Radisson.

Can You Gamble In UAE?

This is the crux that Wynn is yet to square with potential investors. Gambling is illegal in the Gulf state, even though that has not stopped Wynn seeking to build a resort and expand its arm into the UAE.

Now, the UAE has said it would look into regulating gaming specifically in Ras Al Khaimah, and gambling activity from the Wynn establishment, but no further details have been provided.

This hasn’t stopped Wynn pushing for the resort creation, and it is following in the footsteps of other US-based gambling companies in setting up hotels across the region.

Ras Al Khaimah is one of seven emirates that from the UAE and hug the Gulf Sea, and is also one of the smallest. Caesars currently have a property in Dubai but without a casino, while MGM Resorts are also seeking to build a hub out there.

And while Wynn has maintained as recently as January that any development would be a “gaming” and not a “gambling” resort, that rhetoric appears to be changing.

“When you think about a market like that where you for some period of time, will be the only operator, you certainly don’t want to underbuild the casino, but you want to maintain that sense of energy,” Billings said.

There is no sense yet that any of the other UAE states bar Ras Al Khaimah will budge on their ban on gambling in the region. Indeed, as recently as May Dubai said they wouldn’t change their laws around gambling, even though neighboring Ras Al Khaimah could make the leap.

Dubai remains the big prize for casino developers. Were the emirate to permit gambling there, firms from across the world would likely jump at the chance to open casinos that attracts around 12 million visitors every year.

Joe Ellison

Joseph is a dedicated journalist and horse racing fanatic who has been writing about sports and casinos for over a decade. He has worked with some of the UK's top bookmakers and provides Premier League soccer tips on a regular basis. You'll likely find him watching horse racing or rugby when he isn't writing about sport.

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