Legendary Macau Kingpin Stanley Ho Dead at Age 98

June 1, 2020 3 min read
by Thomas Wolf

Billionaire casino magnate of Macau and philanthropist Stanley Ho died this week after a long battle with illness that began when he suffered a stroke in 2009.

The charming and driven Mr. Ho made his first fortune as a young man smuggling consumer goods in WWII wartime China. In his own words, when he arrived in Macau as a refugee after the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong, he was “a very poor man with just HK$10 as capital.”

stanley ho
This image is from 1971.

The details of what happened next are unclear to the public, but Stanley Ho emerged into postwar China as a fairly wealthy businessman. He then transitioned that wealth into a string of casinos in the Portuguese enclave of Macau.

Mr. Ho and a small group of other casino owners negotiated a deal with the Portuguese government in 1962, which gave them exclusive rights to gambling operations there for 40 years.

However, their agreement was interrupted a few years early when Portugal gave up ownership of Macau in 1999, and it became a Special Administrative Region of China.

Mr. Ho wasn’t put off by the opening of Macau to foreign investment, however. By that time, he was already a regular fixture on the Forbes’ billionaires list with an estimated worth of just over $1 billion.

By the mid-2000s, he was worth over $6 billion, as he and his company Sociedade de Jogos de Macau Holdings (SJM) had transformed the Macau skyline. At that time, there were no fewer than 20 different casinos under his ownership.

He was known for his love of ballroom dancing as well as his 17 children with four different wives. He was described by Chinese state TV as a “patriotic businessman,” and he maintained a healthy relationship with the CCP throughout his years.

Power Structures

Sadly, the same could not always be said of Mr. Ho and his familial matters. Since Mr. Ho retired from the public eye with a brain injury he suffered at home in 2009, his family members became increasingly contentious with each other as they jostled for influence with the ageing tycoon and his inheritance.

“SJM is a company in desperate need of strong, clear leadership and more transparency in terms of its internal power structures,” said a corporate lawyer in a 2018 document shown to reporters.

At one point, Stanley was very close to taking several of his relatives to court over their attempts to take over his stakes in the business.

These issues were smoothed over in 2018 when Pansy Ho (Stanley’s eldest daughter with Angela Leong On Ke) agreed to a deal that would see her become the majority shareholder in SJM.

Pansy is also co-chairman of MGM Macau, the regional venture of the Las Vegas-based casino operator, and it was she who announced Mr. Ho’s death on the 26th of May.

Several other members of the Ho clan are also involved in Macau’s casino business, including Mr. Ho’s son Laurence who runs Melco Resorts and Entertainment.

$15 billion Empire

Collectively, the family stands to inherit a $15 billion empire, which is currently facing the fallout from the unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic.

No-one has publicly contested the agreement for Pansy’s takeover as of yet, and she seems like the most qualified candidate. The 55-year old has managed several family businesses in the past, including casinos, and is well-known among the Macau business community.

However, under local laws, she must soon drop all but 5% of her shares in MGM Macau if she is to remain the majority holder of SJM.

Mr. Ho leaves behind three of his four wives, 16 of his children, and a further dozen great-grandchildren.

Despite some controversy over the activities of Triad organized crime gangs in his casinos (something he always denied), Mr. Ho will be remembered as a true pioneer who was instrumental in forming Macau into the “Asian Las Vegas” that it is today.  

Author

Thomas Wolf

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