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MGM Resorts Ups its Bet on ‘The Island’ in Dubai – But No Casino

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MGM CEO Bill Hornbuckle still hasn’t got the greenlight for his casino in Dubai, but that isn’t stopping him spending billions on the project.

MGM Resort’s upcoming three-hotels-in-one mega-resort in Dubai will not have a casino, CEO and president Bill Hornbuckle has said. Still, he has high hopes for the project, now with a new budget in excess of $2.5 billion.

“Obviously, we have Dubai. We have our project there, which is an amazing project. It’s going to be over a $2.5 billion project without a casino in it,” Hornbuckle said Tuesday during a conference call with investors.

The Dubai project is known as “The Island” and will combine an Aria, an MGM and a Bellagio into a 1,400-room resort. It has been in the works since 2017, announced by the emirate’s ruler himself, but has seen little progress. There is currently no opening date.

There aren’t additional details about the $2.5 billion budget. In November 2023, local project developer Wasl issued a construction contract worth $1.2 billion to China State to build The Island.

Many have speculated the MGM in Dubai will have a casino after the UAE formed the General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority, known as the GCGRA. The GCGRA is chaired by Jim Murren, who was the chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts from 2008 to 2020.

In September 2022, Hornbuckle said the resort would be non-gaming during a conference call. In May 2023, he said gaming could be legalized in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai ‘any day’ and that The Island will have 200,000 square feet of space ready and waiting to be turned into a lavish casino.

In October 2023, during another call, Hornbuckle said as many as four casinos could open across the emirates, including within his Dubai project.

Abu Dhabi Casino Instead?

In the latest conference call, Hornbuckle said Abu Dhabi has the greatest chance of getting a casino license. The MGM team is looking around Yas Island, the city’s leisure hub and a hotbed for gaming speculation.

Bloomberg reported in November 2023 that Dubai authorities have put gaming plans on the backburner.

Hornbuckle said: “We spent some time on the ground there, specifically in Abu Dhabi, trying to understand the license in general for UAE, but ultimately, the opportunity in Abu Dhabi. We believe it would be on the Yas Island. That opportunity still exists. To the extent there is a submission to be had, we may participate in that.”

Yas Island already boasts a Ferrari theme park, a Warner Bros theme park and a SeaWorld. Notably, the GCGRA is based out of Abu Dhabi.

It wouldn’t be MGM’s first run at Abu Dhabi if Hornbuckle decides to submit for a project there. In 2007, the MGM Grand Abu Dhabi was announced, planned to open in 2012 without gaming. In 2011, the local owners of the project, Mubadala, said the MGM Grand was “still under review” with zero construction having been done.

“Time Will Tell”

Wynn Resorts looks to be making more progress. The $3.9 billion Wynn Al Marjan Island, with a confirmed casino, is opening in 2027 in Ras Al Khaimah, around an hour from Dubai.

For now, Hornbuckle is watching all the emirates on their potential casino plans. He said during the call: “If and when both Abu Dhabi itself as the general license granter for all or any of the emirates goes, and then ultimately, one by one, the emirates say they would like it, we hope to be positioned either for Dubai or Abu Dhabi, but time will tell.”

Read more about MGM’s Q4 here.

Skift has reached out to GCGRA for a comment.

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