HONG KONG • 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 peacefully at the age of 98, his family confirmed yesterday.
The flamboyant tycoon, who loved to dance and advised his nearest and dearest to shun gambling, headed one of the world’s most lucrative gaming businesses through his flagship firm, SJM Holdings, which is valued at about US$6 billion (S$8.5 billion).
Mr Ho oversaw the transformation of once sleepy Macau into the world’s biggest casino centre, outpacing the United States’ Las Vegas strip, and held a monopoly until 2002, when the enclave licensed five other operators to run casinos.
“In Hong Kong, Mr Ho had been someone who carried a lot of weight, was highly respected, and cherished Hong Kong.
“(We) hope to follow in our father’s footsteps and carry on the responsibility of giving back to the society,” his daughter Pansy Ho told media.
Shares of companies in the family’s empire surged yesterday on expectations of potential ownership changes involving Mr Ho’s family members. SJM rose as much as 8.5 per cent, passenger transport firm Shun Tak Holdings jumped 17.6 per cent and casino operator Melco International Development climbed 4.9 per cent, outpacing a 2 per cent gain for the benchmark index.
“The market is expecting… a scramble for inheritance. Under these circumstances there might be changes in company ownership, with some shareholders increasing their stakes,” said Mr Kenny Ng, a Hong Kong-based analyst at brokerage Everbright Sun Hung Kai.
Last year, Ms Ho struck a strategic alliance with four shareholders of her father’s privately owned Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM), the holding company for SJM.
The deal increased her control over SJM and put the alliance’s influence at SJM ahead of Ms Angela Leong, the casino operator’s co-chairman and wife of Mr Ho. They had been together for more than three decades
“Investors are keen on SJM in anticipation that it will become more aggressive in its business approach on the back of stronger control of the company and closer ties among its major shareholders,” said Mr Steven Leung, a sales director at UOB Kay Hian.
Mr Ho was born on Nov 25, 1921, into a wealthy Hong Kong family of Chinese and European descent, and attended university in the city.
Mr Stanley Ho oversaw the transformation of once sleepy Macau into the world’s biggest casino centre, outpacing the United States’ Las Vegas strip, and held a monopoly until 2002, when the enclave licensed five other operators to run casinos.
His family’s circumstances deteriorated during World War II, when the Japanese invaded the British colony.
At age 21, he fled to neutral Macau where he got his start trading everything from kerosene to airplanes at a time when the island was best known for fishing and producing fireworks and incense.
Mr Ho was an avid ballroom dancer and a former Hong Kong tennis champion. He won the Chinese Recreation Club doubles competition for older players for several years running into his 80s.
The tycoon also carried the Olympic torch in 2008.
Mr Ho had four wives and 17 known children.
He was forced to restructure his business after a legal battle erupted within the family in 2012 over the family fortune – which Forbes had pegged at US$2 billion two years earlier.
The holding company STDM has stakes in everything from luxury hotels to helicopters to horse racing. Analysts do not expect the tycoon’s death to have an impact on day-to-day operations.
SJM is Macau’s oldest gambling company.
Mr Ho spearheaded what is known in Macau as the junket VIP system, whereby middlemen act on behalf of casinos by extending credit to gamblers and taking responsibility for collecting debts.
Some of his children have become successful gaming operators in their own right.
Ms Ho is the co-chairman of MGM Resorts International’s Macau unit, MGM China Holdings, while one of Mr Ho’s sons, Lawrence, runs Melco Resorts & Entertainment.
Mr Ho died at the Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital.