Skift Take

The MGM Dubai is finally getting started again, being built by China State at one third of the cost of the competition's Wynn resort in Ras Al Khaimah.

The construction firm behind the MGM Cotai casino resort in Macau has been awarded the contract to build “The Island” in Dubai. First reported by MEED, the $1.2 billion contract is the most valuable construction deal in Dubai in the past six years.

The Island is an offshore project close to the famous Burj Al Arab hotel. Its plan calls for an MGM hotel, an Aria hotel and a Bellagio, together adding 1,400 hotel rooms.

Wasl, a local developer, awarded the contract to Beijing’s China State Construction Engineering Corporation. It’s an indication the MGM Dubai will go ahead after being announced – and seemingly in limbo – since 2017.

In 2013, MGM and China State entered an agreement where the Chinese firm would be the one “collaborating” on all MGM’s non-US hotels. This included the MGM Cotai in Macau, which cost around $3.4 billion to build.

The Island originally planned its own “Dubai Sphere,” described as a 110-metre-high entertainment tower located in the center of the complex, offering 3D light and sound effects shows for up to 300 guests at a time.

Gaming at MGM Dubai

Like the Cotai resort, the Dubai MGM has seen various delays. It was initially planned to open in 2021 and was only ever mentioned by MGM execs briefly in earning calls. With the announcement of the Wynn integrated resort in nearby Ras Al Khaimah however, MGM CEO Bill Hornbuckle has been more vocal about his plans in Dubai.

One of those plans is a casino.

“I’d love to be in Dubai with an operating product with a casino in it, but one step and one day at a time. We’re very progressive and excited by what could happen there,” said Hornbuckle at a conference in Vegas last month.

He also said: “We think there will be three or four [casinos] in the Emirates. It’s up to each ruler to decide what they want to do and where they want to do it.”

At a federal level, the UAE established in September the General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority, known as the GCGRA, which will regulate and establish “strict guidelines” for the country’s commercial gaming industry. This new GCGRA is chaired by Jim Murren.

Murren is the former chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts, a role he held from 2008 to 2020. He was also chairman of the American Gaming Association from 2014 to 2017.

Wynn execs, on the other hand, believe they will have a monopoly on UAE gaming for several years.

“It will likely be us and us alone for a multiyear period,” said the group’s CEO Craig Billings in an earnings call. “After that, it may be a duopoly or an oligopoly of three.”

Wynn Al Marjan
Rendering of Wynn Al Marjan Island

The Wynn Al Marjan Island is expected to open in Ras Al Khaimah – an emirate with a population of around 450,000 – in 2027. It is projected to cost upwards of $3.9 billion to build – more than three times the value of this new MGM Dubai contract.

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Tags: Dubai Hotels, hospitality news, hotel news, mgm

Photo credit: A render of 'The Island'

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