HONG KONG (Reuters) - Macau gambling king Stanley Ho, who built a business empire from scratch in the former Portuguese colony and became one of Asia’s richest men, died on Tuesday at the age of 98. Stanley Ho, a one-time kerosene trader who built a casino empire in Macau that propelled the Chinese island past Las Vegas as the world’s biggest gambling hub, has died at the age of 98, members.
The King of Macau. The King of Gambling. Macau’s underground governor. In the unlikely event you don’t know of Stanley Ho, a glance at the 94-year-old casino mogul’s nicknames should offer a pretty succinct summary of what this grandfather of gaming is all about.
Stanley Ho’s story begins in 1920s Hong Kong, where he was born into the highly wealthy and powerful Ho Tung family. However, the Great Depression hit hard and his father and uncles went broke, with two of Ho’s older brothers reportedly committing suicide as a result of their struggles. Ho was transformed from a childhood of riches to his mother being unable to afford his teenage school fees.
There was at least one positive to be drawn from the experience however. The lack of financial resources forced Ho to transform himself from an average student into one who attained high marks and received scholarships.
In a CNN interview in 2004, Ho recalled his downturn in fortune and what the experience had taught him. “When I was eight, my father had a pleasure boat, we had a few motor cars on the road, we had a summer house in Stanley – where I got my name – and we were really enjoying so much, we were absolutely spoilt,” he said. “From that, imagine, to rags, when even my own family members – I meet them in the street – would turn away their faces.” He concluded: “You have to learn from humility.”
The family tragedy also served as a major motivator for young Stanley. “I saw my mother crying every day, going to a pawn shop every day to keep us going, and I promised her I will make good no matter what,” he said. “So I managed to bring her from Hong Kong to Macau during the war years, and she lived here happily thereafter.”
Ho worked as an air raid warden for 15 days but fled to the neutral region of Macau during World War II following the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong, becoming, in his own words, a refugee. The experience stayed with him and he has spoken of how well he was treated there, describing himself as “indebted” to his second home.
While the triads’ historic involvement in Macau’s casino sector is undeniable, Ho has described his supposed connections as a “misconception”The Wall Street Journal describes Ho as becoming wealthy by “trading supplies for a company owned by the Japanese military, the Portuguese government and local Chinese merchants”. In his early years in Macau, a special administrative region of China, Ho worked from six in the morning until 10 at night with no time for any sort of social life. The hard graft paid off however: Stanley Ho arrived in Macau with 10 dollars in his pocket and within a year was a millionaire. According to Joe Studwell’s book Asian Godfathers, Ho was running luxury goods into China during the Second World War, with his varied business interests expanding into trading the likes of kerosene and aeroplanes. There was high drama too, with Studwell writing of Ho once having to fend off a pirate attack.
Fast forward to 1961 and the 119th Governor of Macau, Jaime Silvério Marques, has designated the area as a “permanent gaming region” offering low taxation. The existing monopoly concession of Tai Heng is set to expire at the end year and Macau is looking to liberalise gaming in the region. Tai Heng bids for the new concession alongside a new firm, co-founded by Stanley Ho, named Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM). STDM won the day and its first property, Casino Estoril, opened the following year, with the flagship Casino Lisboa launching in 1970.
Macau gaming underwent a transformation during STDM’s monopoly years, with an upgrade in transport from ferries to helicopters (via jetfoils) mirrored by an upgrade in the overall casino experience, with glitzier establishments and more luxurious accommodation superseding the much more old fashioned ‘gambling dens’ of the past.
Ho isn’t a gambler and doesn’t believe in luck, which he says constitutes only 5% of his success. One of the few instances where he does acknowledge his good fortune came around a decade after launching with STDM in Macau, when Hong Kong began to issue immigration permits allowing visitors to the region.
Ho has been accused over the years of having links to organised crime in Macau. While the triads’ historic involvement in the region’s casino sector is undeniable, Ho has described his supposed connections as a “misconception”.
In August 1992, US Senate Committee hearings stated that, although Ho was not known to be involved in organised crime, he was linked to former associates who were. This is believed to have been a reference to his former business partner Yip Hon, who created STDM with Ho and Henry Fok.
It has been claimed by a US anti-gambling coalition that around the turn of the millennium Ho refused to appear in front of a Fillipino committee and answer questions about alleged ties to triads and money laundering. “These reports only say that I know some triad members,” he told the South China Morning Post. “Well, maybe you have come across some. To be associated with or to know someone is completely different.”
By 2003, the final year of the STDM monopoly, Macau’s then 11 casinos employed 12,400 people – 6% of the region’s total workforce. The venues generated gaming revenue of 29.5bn patacas – about 60% of the Vegas market – and paid 10.57bn patacas in direct tax to the government. The following year foreign operators were allowed into the market and in 2006 Macau overtook Las Vegas gaming revenues.
The arrival of foreign firms such as Wynn and Las Vegas Sands placed STDM somewhat in the shade as an operator of what were now often considered the more ‘downmarket’ casinos, at least in terms of mass market gaming. At the time of writing, the former monopoly has only the third largest Macau market share at around 20%. It’s fightback includes the development of the Lisboa Palace resort, set to open in 2017.
Away from the tables, Ho has admitted his personal life is “complicated”. He married his second wife under a Qing dynasty code, since outlawed, that allowed men to take multiple wives, and has also fathered children with two other woman he considers himself married to. He has either 16 or 17 children, according to different reports. One of them, Pansy Ho, is co-chair of MGM China, the Macau-based subsidiary of MGM Resorts International, and Hong Kong’s richest woman with a current net worth of $3.7bn, according to Forbes.
In 2004, MGM Resorts formed a joint venture with Pansy, and the new alliance purchased a sub-concession from SJM Holdings, the gaming subsidiary of STDM, for $200m to build the MGM Macau. It has been reported that it was Pansy rather than Stanley who did the deal due to the Nevada regulator’s concerns regarding the latter’s alleged organised crime links. Indeed MGM Resorts was initially instructed by New Jersey regulators to sell its 50% stake in Atlantic City casino Borgata because of MGM’s connection to the Ho family, although MGM was later allowed back into the state. Another Ho sibling, Lawrence, is the billionaire CEO of casino operator Melco Crown Entertainment.
In 2011 Ho, who was then said to be worth $3.1bn, divided his $1.6bn controlling stake in STDM among his relatives, keeping a small fraction for himself, in an attempt to quell an ongoing family feud over inheritance which had even pitted him against some of his own children. The saga was characterised by claims, counter-claims and lawsuits, as well as the poor health of Ho, who underwent brain surgery in 2009.
SJM has a battle on its hands to regain market share from some notable overseas adversaries. Whichever operators come out on top, they will be building on a base put firmly in place over 50 years ago by The King of Macau himself.
HONG KONG (AP) — Casino tycoon Stanley Ho, whose business empire dominated the Portuguese gambling enclave of Macao for decades, died Tuesday in Hong Kong at age 98.
Considered the father of modern gambling in China, Ho’s long and eventful life tracked the ebb and flow of southern China’s fortunes. After a swashbuckling start as a kerosene trader, he ended up as Macau’s richest person, a lavish spender and debonair ballroom dancer.
A family statement said he died peacefully in his sleep, but did not give a cause of death.
Of mixed Chinese and European heritage, Ho fathered 17 children with four women, an extended family that engaged in high-profile squabbles over his legacy during his later years.
Ho had stakes in businesses running everything from the ferries and helicopters connecting Hong Kong and Macao to department stores, hotels, Macao’s airport and its horse-racing tracks.
But he said he avoided the gambling floor.
“I don’t gamble at all. I don’t have the patience,” Ho told The Associated Press in a rare interview in 2001. “Don’t expect to make money in gambling. It’s a house game. It’s for the house.”
Ho was born on Nov. 25, 1921, into the Hotung family, one of Hong Kong’s wealthiest and most powerful. When he was 13, his father abandoned the family after being wiped out by a stock market crash during the Great Depression.
Ho’s studies at Hong Kong University were interrupted by World War II. Fluent in English and Chinese, he was working as a telephone operator for British forces when the colony fell to Japan. He boarded a boat for neutral Macao, joining refugees from mainland China in the dying fishing port.
“I had to throw away my uniform and run to Macao as a refugee,” Ho said in the 2001 interview.
During the war, Ho said he ran nighttime smuggling and trading trips up the Pearl River Delta, on one occasion surviving a pirate attack.
Eventually, he secured a four-decade monopoly on casinos in Macao, using that home advantage to build an empire that still dominated the industry for years after the local gaming market opened to foreign companies in 2002.
“Macao treated me so well. I went there with 10 dollars in my pocket and became a millionaire before the age of 20,” Ho said.
In 1948, Ho married Clementina Leitao, daughter of a prominent lawyer in Macao with ties to Portugal and to Macao high society, connections that may have helped him win the casino monopoly in 1962. About the same time, Ho married Lucina Laam under a Qing dynasty code allowing men to take multiple wives that Hong Kong outlawed in 1971.
Ho fathered children with two other women, Ina Chan and Angela Leong, whom he also referred to as his “wives.” Ho reportedly met Chan, a nurse, when she was hired to care for Leitao, who died in 2004.
He met Leong, a dancer and former ballroom dancing instructor, through his love of the tango and the cha-cha,
Portugal transferred control of its colony Macao to China in 1999 and Ho’s monopoly ended in 2002. That brought in foreign rivals including Las Vegas Sands Corp., Wynn Resorts Ltd. and MGM Resorts International, spurring a building boom that transformed the sleepy, seedy former colonial outpost into a glitzy gambling powerhouse frequented by high-rolling mainland Chinese.
The new players brought slick offerings to compete with SJM’s nearly two dozen no-frills casinos, but Ho’s group waited years to build its own lavish megaresort.
SJM’s market share in Macao dropped to 14% in 2019 from the more than 30% share it held a decade earlier.
Ho shrugged off allegations of ties to organized crime, such as a 2010 report by the New Jersey gaming commission that accused him of letting Chinese criminal gangs, or triads, prosper inside his casinos during the 1990s.
Ho occasionally made news with extravagant gestures such as paying $8.9 million in 2007 for a bronze horse head looted by French troops from China’s imperial palace 150 years earlier so he could donate it to a Chinese museum. He also twice bid a record $330,000 for truffles at charity auctions.
In 2009, Ho had brain surgery after reportedly falling at home. He spent seven months in the hospital and was rarely seen in public afterward, usually in a wheelchair.
Ho is survived by three of his wives and 16 children — his eldest son, Robert, died in a car crash in Portugal in 1981.
Daughter Pansy is co-chair of rival MGM’s Macao casino business. His son Lawrence runs another competitor, Melco. Another daughter, Josie, is an actress and singer.
In 2011, a very public feud erupted over control of his multibillion-dollar stake in Macao casino operator SJM Holdings Ltd.
Ho disputed a supposed transfer of his entire stake to five of his children and one of his wives, calling it a “robbery” contrary to his desire to divide the fortune equally among various family members.
Stanley Ho Macau Net Worth
The dispute eventually was settled after several lawsuits, and Ho transferred most of his SJM shares to family members while officially remaining chairman until he retired at age 96. He had left the same job at his Hong Kong conglomerate Shun Tak Holdings just a year earlier.
Ho was low key and quiet spoken in person, but proud of his role in transforming Macao from a decaying backwater deluged with refugees into the glittering destination is it today.
“In those days, the Portuguese said Stanley Ho was a dreamer. I have fulfilled all my promises,” Ho said in 2001. “I feel rather proud in having succeeded.”
Stanley Ho Macau
Chan, who reported from Hong Kong for The Associated Press for seven years, is now based in London.