Dubai takes a lesson from Vegas on how to become a resort destination

Even though the Islamic-steeped government of Dubai rejects gambling, there are striking similarities between Las Vegas – specifically the Strip – and Dubai, one of seven emirates making up the United Arab Emirates.

It helps explain why Dubai World, a government-owned holding company, wanted to become a partner in MGM Mirage’s CityCenter project.

„Dubai has a reputation of really trying to develop much the same way Las Vegas has done but without casinos,“ said Bill Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at UNR. „It’s a secular spot within the Muslim world that’s become a premium destination resort area in the Middle East.“

Low taxes, free trade and an aggressive growth strategy built around the tourism industry have helped make Dubai a progressive hub in the region.

Indeed, Dubai World employees are being initiated in a 12-month program through the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of business to train legions of future managers for Dubai’s burgeoning service economy, which is booming in a region similar to the Las Vegas Valley in size and population.

Dubai’s skyline, not far from the vast sand dunes of the Arabian Desert, features the Burj Dubai, an office tower that’s expected to be the world’s tallest building, the world’s tallest hotel and the Palm islands, reclaimed land along the gulf that will contain dozens of hotels and residential buildings rivaling the Strip in density.

Dubai’s airport is a vital hub between Europe and Asia, serving more than 28 million passengers in 2006 (compared with the 44 million who travel through McCarran International) and boosting tourism. A new multi billion-dollar airport is under construction.

„Dubai has set about creating strategic relationships with firms that have experience in global leisure tourism,“ said Jonathan Galaviz, a partner with gaming consultant Globalysis Ltd. in Las Vegas. „If you’re looking to enhance your tourism profile, the natural thing to do would be to look at the world’s global tourism centers and find a model that’s working.“

The leap to Las Vegas, therefore, isn’t so far off.

Although Dubai’s free-market, pro-growth economy is very much Vegas, its political and cultural sphere is vastly different.

Nothing much happens in Dubai without government involvement . If Las Vegas is a company town, then Dubai is essentially a one company country, with Dubai World controlling the airport as well as much of the commerce in the region.

Dubai World has been eyeing Las Vegas – and MGM Mirage – for some time.

As it happens, MGM Mirage’s chief executive, Terry Lanni, has a friendship with Dubai World Chairman Dultan Bin Sulayem that goes back at least a decade.

Dubai World has also become one of the biggest equity holders in Kerzner International, a privately held developer of luxury gaming and nongaming resorts in locations such as the Bahamas and Maldives. Kerzner, which recently became a joint venture partner with MGM Mirage in a multi billion-dollar project to take shape on the Strip at Sahara Avenue, is building a massive, marine-themed resort in Dubai.

„They have an extraordinary appetite for doing other projects with us around the world,“ MGM Mirage President and Chief Operating Officer Jim Murren said of Dubai World. „There could be more projects in Las Vegas and perhaps in Atlantic City and overseas. „