Caixin
May 26, 2020 08:02 PM
SOCIETY & CULTURE

Billionaire Macao Gambling Kingpin Stanley Ho Dies at 98

Stanley Ho. Photo: IC Photo
Stanley Ho. Photo: IC Photo

Stanley Ho, a towering figure in Asia’s gambling industry who played a key role in Macao’s emergence as the world’s foremost casino hub, has died. He was 98.

A former World War II smuggler who rose to become the billionaire owner of the former Portuguese colony’s gambling monopoly and one of Asia’s richest men, Ho spent decades as a high-profile tycoon, investor, and philanthropist known as much for his opulent lifestyle as for his business interests. He died Tuesday at the private Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital, according to CCTV, China’s state-owned broadcaster. No cause of death has been announced.

“Although we know the day will come, it does not ease our sorrow,” his daughter Pansy Ho said.

Stanley Ho is survived by 15 of the 17 children he had with four women. He had an estimated personal fortune of $5.3 billion when he retired in 2018, according to Forbes.

Born into a wealthy family in Hong Kong in 1921 and of mixed Chinese and European ancestry, Ho studied at the then-British colony’s Queen’s College. An initially undistinguished student, his family’s declining business fortunes encouraged him to focus more on his studies and he eventually won a scholarship to the University of Hong Kong.

When Japan occupied Hong Kong during the Second World War, Ho fled to neutral Macao, where he reportedly made money by smuggling food and luxuries across the border into China. He also maintained interests in the kerosene and construction sectors.

But it was after the war ended that Ho’s fortunes really took off. In 1961, he and his business partner, Henry Fok, won the only public tender for Macao’s gambling license, effectively granting them a monopoly over the territory’s gambling interests.

Over the following decades, Ho’s company, Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macao, cultivated a clutch of glitzy casinos, hotels and resorts, including the world-famous Casino Lisboa.

With gambling mostly outlawed in Hong Kong and entirely on the Chinese mainland, big spenders from across the region flocked to Ho’s tables. His casino empire generated about half of Macao’s total tax revenue by the 1990s, spurred the city to overtake Las Vegas as the world’s premier gambling center, and earning Ho the local nickname “the King of Gambling.”

The revenues continued even after Macao returned to Beijing’s rule in 1999 and started issuing gambling licenses to other companies from 2002.

Ho’s multinational business interests included property in Portugal and Canada, and further investments in North Korea and Southeast Asia.

A colorful character with a penchant for ballroom dancing, Ho fathered 17 children by four different women, three of whom survive him. His first two marriages occurred before Hong Kong banned polygamy in 1971.

A keen patron of the arts and sports, Ho held an honorary doctorate from the University of Macao, an Order of the British Empire for services to Hong Kong, and Portugal’s highest civilian honor for services to Macao.

He was also widely known for his philanthropy, with several museums and hospitals in both Hong Kong and Macao bearing his name.


Stanley Ho: Major Milestones

1921 (Nov. 25): Stanley Ho Hung-sun is born in Hong Kong into the Ho Tung family, one of the city’s most venerable and powerful clans.

1942: During Japanese invasion, flees Hong Kong for Macao.

1943: Sets up a kerosene company, which allowed him to profit greatly from postwar construction boom in Hong Kong.

1961: Founds the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM) with partners Yip Hon, Teddy Yip, and Henry Fok. Together they bid for and win Macao’s first gambling license.

1960s: Builds global portfolio, investing in Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Canada, and the U.K.

1972: Sets up Shun Tak Holdings Ltd., which acquires numerous properties in Hong Kong and Macau. It also owns TurboJET, which operates high-speed ferry fleets and is primary provider of naval transport between the two special administrative regions.

1989: STDM acquires Macau Jockey Club, Ho becomes chairman.

1999: Opens HK$233 million ($29.7 million) casino in Pyongyang, North Korea.

2009: Undergoes brain surgery, after which he would need to use a wheelchair. During his recovery, his family feuds over his fortune, an affair which was highly publicized and ends in 2011 with a truce.

2017 (June): Steps down as chairman of Shun Tak Holdings, leaving reigns to daughter Pansy Ho.

2018 (June): Retires from SJM, with daughter Daisy Ho succeeding him.

2020 (May): Dies at the age of 98.

Contact reporter Matthew Walsh (matthewwalsh@caixin.com) and editor Joshua Dummer (joshuadummer@caixin.com)

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