Saudi Arabia To Build Its Own Version Of Vegas

Saudi kingdom tower at sunset

It was not all that long ago that the world would have laughed at the prospect of a Las Vegas-sized entertainment hub being built in the middle of the Saudi Arabian landscape. However, as we stand here in 2017 it now appears that is exactly what is about to happen.

An innovative entertainment complex is planned to open in the capital city of Riyadh in 2030.

Breaking with Saudi Convention

Saudi Arabia is a country that boasts a largely Sunni Islam community. The mere idea of a multi-billion dollar entertainment district is one that borders on blasphemy. Yet that is the very reality that the country will be faced with come 2022 when the first stage of the complex is completed. Work is set to begin early next year.

The entertainment city is part of a wider strategic plan dubbed Vision 2030 and is planned to cover 334 square miles of land.

That will make it roughly one fifth the size of the city of Riyadh itself and approximately the same size as the gambling destination of Las Vegas.

It will include a range of attractions like entertainment and sporting amenities, plus a Six Flags Park and safari park are also set to be added to the site.

Crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman
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It was commissioned by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman back in 2016. The motivation behind the project is to help Saudi Arabia’s economy become less reliant on the fossil fuel of oil.

Will The Sexes Come Together?

Riyadh at night
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One of the major issues that the project needs to overcome is the segregation between men and women within Saudi society.

Theme parks across the country have mainly been aimed at children so a cross-gender entertainment city is likely to be seen as a revolutionary change to some more orthodox members of the community.

This is even before the other constraints of Islamic society are considered. The entertainment complex will have to cater for the fact that it needs to adhere to a strict social guideline.

Cinemas and alcohol are banned in Saudi Arabia. How will that impact on the entertainment city’s appeal to foreign tourists? Women are required to wear loose-fitting robes. Will that limit the appeal of certain attractions? It is a project fraught with potential hurdles.

How Liberal Can The Complex Become?

camel racing in Saudi desert
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The city if Riyadh has a population of six million people. Off its own back, it should ensure that the entertainment complex is a success. Saudi Arabia as a whole has a population of 33 million citizens. This makes it the 40th most populated country on the planet. That is a large market to boast before even opening up the possibility of attracting foreign visitors.

Taking this into consideration, it is very likely that the entertainment complex will be forced to adjust its approach to cater for the citizens of Saudi Arabia. Not every Saudi citizen is Sunni Islam. Sunni is considered the more “orthodox” form of Islam compared to Shia. It would be a gamble for the entertainment complex to offer more liberal forms of entertainment. The prospect of cinemas, clubs, and casinos being included in the complex is almost impossible.

The key could be an emphasis on sport. Football is the national sport of Saudi Arabia. The country has a very successful national league and the national side reaching four World Cups and winning three Asian Cups. Other sports such as scuba diving, wind surfing, sailing, basketball, horse racing, and… camel racing. Yes, that’s a thing!

Any Hope for Gambling?

Saudi Arabia is governed by Islamic law so gambling is illegal in all its forms. The immediate outlook for gambling to be present within this new entertainment complex is not very positive. However, precedents have been set for gambling havens within jurisdictions where gambling is illegal. The possibility of Saudi Arabia turning Vision 2030’s entertainment complex into its very own Macau is the stuff of dreams but it is not entirely ridiculous.

tourists in Saudi Arabia take photos at city attractions
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The country welcomes approximately 15 million tourists each year. Granted, an estimated 5 million of those are religious tourists for the pilgrimage to Mecca throughout the month of Dhu al-Hijjah in Hajj and across the month of Ramadan in Umrah. Even so, that is still 10 million non-religious tourists that could generate revenue. That number could increase if there is the opportunity to gambling legally within the confines of the entertainment complex.

It is a project that is still five years away from opening but the potential for the complex has got tongues wagging. It will be very interesting to see how Saudi Arabia approaches the building of Vision 2030’s entertainment complex. Its construction could be revolutionary for the entertainment industry.