Bill Hornbuckle, chief executive and president of casino resort developer and operator MGM Resorts International, has told an investment event the firm believes it can to be authorised to operate a casino in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
“We hope and believe… that we can push” an in-development resort project in Dubai, in the UAE, “forward, up to – and including – gaming”.
Though Mr Hornbuckle (pictured in a file photo) added in his comments to the 2023 Bank of America Gaming and Lodging Conference, held on Thursday: “I can’t speak to the timing. I don’t know.”
The site for the scheme is at Porto Island, Jumeirah, a land reclamation site just north of the iconic Burj Al Arab building.
Mr Hornbuckle said, referring to the resort project: “This was designed to be a hotel-only project initially. It’s about 1,500 [hotel] keys.”
He noted the Dubai scheme was “originally… going to be a hotel management deal”.
The CEO observed: “We started back in 2015, long before the dialogue started on casinos in the UAE”. He added: “We’re in the ground now with pylons.”
Mr Hornbuckle stated: “We have recently added a 150,000 square feet [13,935 sq. metres] platform: one additional layer to this thing. It can either be one of two things: a casino or a retail centre.”
The MGM Resorts boss said the group saw Dubai as a “US$3-billion-plus market opportunity,” but he didn’t specify to what that figure referred. His group is the majority owner of Macau casino operator MGM China Holdings Ltd.
Mr Hornbuckle said MGM Resorts’ site for the Dubai scheme was controlled by local asset management group Wasl.
“The owner of this [site] is the ruler of the Emirate, so that helps: a group called Wasl. It’s part of his portfolio and part of his holdings,” stated the MGM Resorts CEO.
“We hope and believe… particularly with the ruler as our partner… that we can push that project forward, up to – and including – gaming.
“We have told them [Dubai] that we’ll put equity in, or we’ll lease the casino in its totality to give us the casino business,” Mr Hornbuckle added.
“I don’t know that they [Dubai] are going to want to be in the casino business… I think at the end of the day we’ll end up leasing the casino.”
UAE gaming regulator, Wynn Ras Al Khaimah
He observed: “Dubai has 145,000 hotel rooms today. Dubai today is as big as Las Vegas. So we think the potential on this longer term is pretty compelling.”
The MGM Resorts CEO referred to the recent announcement of the setting up for the UAE of a body called the General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA), involving “my predecessor of note”.
Jim Murren, a former chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts, has been appointed chairman of the body.
Mr Hornbuckle described the UAE as a “fascinating opportunity”.
He observed, referring to UAE public policy: “Reportedly there’s a gaming decree that has been signed, but not released.”
The MGM Resorts boss also made reference to a scheme by one of the group’s competitors – U.S.-based Wynn Resorts Ltd – in another member of the UAE: Ras Al Khaimah.
The under-construction Wynn Al Marjan Island has been publicly described by Wynn Resorts as a US$3.9-billion casino resort complex.
Last month on Wynn Resorts’ second-quarter earnings call, its CEO Craig Billings said the group expected its gaming licence for Ras Al Khaimah “imminently”. The group has said the property might open in early 2027. Wynn Resorts is the parent of Macau casino operator Wynn Macau Ltd.
Mr Hornbuckle stated in his own comments on Thursday: “I can assure you that Wynn [Resorts] is not in the ground without a clear understanding” of the situation.
The MGM Resorts boss added: “Each ruler [in the UAE] will rule whether they want gaming or not, once ultimately the country opines and puts out its regulations, which it appears well positioned to do.”
Mr Hornbuckle said in his commentary: “Under the auspices of the [gaming] commission, each [emirate] has the right to design its own process.
“There may be a similar process in Abu Dhabi, which has also expressed interest, which I find interesting, since it’s the heart of the [UAE] government.”
Though Mr Hornbuckle argued: “The place that’s of value, that has tourism today, that has infrastructure… the 145,000 hotel rooms… and the massive airport… is Dubai.”
He stated: “We will wait for Dubai… to hopefully have this [a resort with gaming] become a reality.”
MGM Resorts is also due to develop a US$10-billion integrated resort (IR) with casino in Osaka, Japan. The launch date is currently slated as autumn 2030.
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