The United Arab Emirates has set up a regulatory body for "commercial gaming" -- a step which could potentially allow for casino licences in the Arab Gulf state where gambling is currently banned.
The General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA) will "coordinate regulatory activities, manage licensing... and facilitate unlocking the economic potential of commercial gaming," the official WAM news agency said late Sunday.
The statement did not clarify whether "gaming" refers to gambling and made no mention of casinos but senior officials hired to run the body are industry veterans.
Its CEO was named as Kevin Mullally who served as executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission -- a body in charge of regulating riverboat casinos throughout the US state.
"I look forward to establishing a robust regulatory body and framework for the UAE's lottery and gaming industry," Mullally was quoted as saying in the WAM statement.
GCGRA's board of directors is chaired by James Murren, who previously served as chairman of the American Gaming Association, a trade group representing the United States casino industry.
Gambling is prohibited under Islamic laws in the oil-rich Gulf state, whose population is 90 percent foreign.
In 2022, US-based casino operator Wynn Resorts announced plans to establish an "integrated resort", including "gaming facilities", in the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah.
Ras al-Khaimah is one of the seven members of the UAE, which includes the city state of Dubai.
Preliminary construction work has begun on Wynn Al Marjan Island which is scheduled to open in early 2027.
UAE authorities have for years denied reports that the country which neighbours Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, is to lift an Arabian Gulf-wide ban on gambling.
But it has made a series of liberalising moves as it faces increased regional competition for talent and tourism, notably from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
These included lifting a ban on unmarried couples living together, loosening restrictions on alcohol, and offering long-term residencies.
Last year, it moved to a Western-style Saturday-Sunday weekend, in what experts said was an attempt to maintain its edge over regional competitors.