Gambling tycoon Stanley Ho dies

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
Gambling tycoon Stanley Ho dies

The king of Macau’s gaming scene, Stanley Ho, has died at the age of 98.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports the flamboyant gambling tycoon, whose alleged association with the gambling industry’s seedy underbelly caused major headaches for Australia’s Crown Resorts recently died peacefully in his sleep, according to a family statement.

The entrepreneur headed one of the world’s most lucrative gaming businesses through his flagship firm, SJM Holdings Ltd, valued at A$9 billion.

Born in Hong Kong of mixed Chinese and European heritage, Mr Ho fathered 17 children with four women, an extended family that engaged in high-profile squabbled over his legacy during his later years.

Despite being one of Asia’s richest men, he avoided the gambling floor.

“I don’t gamble at all. I don’t have the patience,” Mr Ho told The Associated Press in 2001.

“Don’t expect to make money in gambling. It’s a house game. It’s for the house.”

Long-standing allegations of Mr Ho’s connections to organised crime trailed his family all the way to Sydney.

Last year, the New South Wales gaming authority launched an unprecedented public inquiry into his son, Lawrence Ho’s, purchase of a 19.8 per cent stake in Crown Resorts from James Packer last year.

Mr Ho denied the allegations.

Crown’s licence for its casino under construction at Barangaroo explicitly forbids Stanley Ho and a list of associated individuals and entities from any involvement in the casino.

The New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority was preparing to dig through the inner workings of Lawrence’s casino company Melco Resorts before the inquiry was indefinitely delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Melco sold all of its shares in Crown four weeks ago, saying it needed to focus on its Asian casinos which had been shut by the pandemic.

ILGA said at the time it was considering whether it would have to reconsider the terms of its inquiry after Melco’s exit.

Ho shrugged off allegations of ties to organised 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.

Stanley Ho was an icon in Macau

Mr Ho was born on November 25, 1921, into the Hotung family, one of Hong Kong’s wealthiest and most powerful.

His father abandoned the family when he was 13 after being wiped out by a share market crash during the Great Depression.

Mr Ho’s studied 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 Macau, joining refugees from mainland China in the dying fishing port.

“I had to throw away my uniform and run to Macau as a refugee,” Mr Ho said.

He eventually secured a four-decade monopoly on Macau casinos, using his home advantage to build an empire that still dominated the industry for years after the local gaming market opened to foreign companies in 2012.

Mr Ho helped transform Macau from a sleepy peninsula dotted with seedy, windowless gambling dens into the world’s biggest casino centre.

Mr Ho’s interests in Macau were not limited to the roulette wheels and baccarat tables.

His privately held company has stakes in everything from luxury hotels to helicopters and horse racing.

Mr Ho lost his gambling monopoly in 2002 when Macau was opened up to competition, three years after the enclave returned to Chinese rule.

His main asset, SJM Holdings, is facing increasing competition from the other five licensed operators in Macau including US billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s Sands China.

Mr Ho earned the adoration of many Hong Kong and Macau residents for his swashbuckling business style and philanthropic work.

Analysts do not expect his death to have a big impact on the day-to-day operations of Mr Ho’s companies.

Shares of the companies in the family empire surged after the news.

SJM rose as much as 8.5 per cent, transport firm Shun Tak Holdings spiked 17.6 per cent and casino operator Melco jumped 4.9 per cent.

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