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Game On UAE

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of media attention on what appears to be a significant development from a regional standpoint – namely, the introduction of ‘gaming’ (which some consider may be a euphemism for gambling) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Ever-conscious of the fact that anything posted in any form of news media needs to be taken with a proverbial grain of salt, in this blog we provide a glimpse into some of the legal and regulatory developments that may be underpinning this announcement.

Firstly, it is worth noting that the specific potentially trailblazing project being reported is the development of a so-called “integrated resort” which will include “gaming facilities”, to be based on the man-made Al Marjan Island in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. It is reportedly being developed in association with Wynn Resorts, an American-based casino developer, and is scheduled to be completed some time in 2026. The official press release from Wynn Resorts about the project can be found here.

For obvious reasons, this announcement was met with a certain degree of surprise and even scepticism within the UAE community, particularly within legal circles, where it has been long acknowledged that any kind of gambling is strictly prohibited in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. Indeed, it has been (and in the vast majority of instances, still is) strictly prohibited in accordance with numerous different laws and regulations, at both the Federal and Emirate level, and spanning both civil and penal law frameworks. In addition, those of us who have been in the region for some time will also likely recall that some other landmark hotel projects in the UAE were also expected to offer gaming facilities – however, to date, this has yet to materialize.

Which leads us to consider - what has actually changed (or will be changing) from a regulatory standpoint that might be ushering in this new era of legalised gaming in the Emirates? We have uncovered a number of indicators (both from a legal and practical standpoint) that seem to support the premise that change is potentially afoot in line with recent media reports on this matter. For example, it has also been announced that a Department of Entertainment and Gaming Regulation has been established as a new department of the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA). The reported functions of this new department include licensing and regulating gaming activities in the Ras Al Khaimah Emirate (presumably with the Wynn Resorts project being the first to officially fall under its purview), which will necessarily require the development and promulgation of a series of new laws and regulations. As such, and assuming that this new department is indeed in the process of becoming operational, we should be able to anticipate some new legal and regulatory instruments addressing both its remit and the rules pertaining to gaming activities (at least those conducted within the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah) in the near term. At present time, however, no such laws or regulations appear to have been publicly issued.

Another development that potentially lends credence to recent reports about the introduction of legalised gaming activities in the UAE can be found in the newly issued updated version of the Federal Cybercrimes Law, Federal Decree-Law No. 34/2021 Concerning the Fight Against Rumors and Cybercrime. The new Cybercrimes Law was issued in September of last year, although it was not publicly announced until December. What is interesting about this version of the law (in contrast to the predecessor framework) is that it provides a carve-out which expressly contemplates that certain gambling activities may actually be permissible (at least in an electronic context). This is a clear departure from the previous Cybercrimes Law, which strictly prohibited gambling activities without any contemplation of there being exceptions to the rule.

Of course, even if the UAE is in fact moving towards embracing some kind of legalised gaming framework, we are still in the very early stages of this potential development. As such, it will be important to continue monitoring for any further regulatory changes as they arise, but also to consider these in the context of the wider UAE legal framework. The current situation is quite fluid, but the coming months should hopefully usher in some eagerly anticipated legal and practical clarifications – which we will continue to monitor.

The Bench lawyers are recognised as leading experts by Who's Who Legal Sports & Gaming 2021 and have vast experience in advising on a wide range of regulatory issues. If you have any questions in relation to gaming regulation please contact or your normal contact here at The Bench.

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