The gaming industry certainly attracts colorful characters. Steve Wynn, Sheldon Adelson, Donald Trump … and Stanley Ho. Ho died this week at the age of 98. He is widely recognized for transforming Macau into Las Vegas of Asia, which started out as a smuggler and is said to have had close ties to the 14K crime syndicates and Sun Yee On in Hong Kong. He was also a flamboyant and charismatic man with 17 children as well as a major philanthropist and construction magnate with commercial interests around the world. Ho had 20 casinos in Macau and reported nearly 50% of the region’s tax revenue and was worth around $ 7 billion. He retired two years ago at the age of 96. Ho was not only a casino tycoon, but he was also an accomplished ballroom dancer. He built the Macau gaming industry under a monopoly license until 2002, when foreign investors arrived and the boom in the construction of casinos and hotel complexes accelerated.
Stanley Ho was born in 1921 in Hong Kong to a wealthy and politically linked family who had made money with the British trading company Jardine Matheson. Her great-grandfather Charles Henry Maurice Bosman was of Dutch Jewish origin and her great-grandmother was the Chinese mistress of Bosman Sze Tai. Her grandfather Ho Fook was the brother of the successful merchant Sir Robert Hotung. During the Great Depression in the mid-1920s, the family, like so many others, experienced difficult times. Ho was the ninth of Ho Sai-kwong’s 13 children. He studied at Queen’s College in Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong. Ho’s university studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1942.
During the Second World War, Ho fled to Macau, then a Portuguese colony when Hong Kong was captured by the Japanese. He only had a few dollars in his name. With $ 10 in his pocket, Ho decided to make a fortune. He smuggled goods into China. He succeeded in this because he was smart enough to include the Japanese in his transactions. He was not even yet 24 and was already on the road to a massive fortune as one of the key players in the reconstruction of Hong Kong after the war.
In 1961, when he was 40, he was wealthy and connected enough to monopolize the all-new legal gaming industry in Macau. This is what made Ho his billions. But it also worked for them. He knew he had to attract wealthy heavy lifters, so he built a port for high-speed boats transporting players from Hong Kong to Macau. Ho is known for transforming Macau into the largest casino center in the world – even bigger than Las Vegas – and was the only player in the territory’s gaming industry until Sheldon Adelson’s Sands China decided to settle in Macau and give Ho a little competition.
Allegations of Ho’s links to organized crime have followed him for years, despite his numerous denials of being linked to the violent triads based in Hong Kong. Ten years ago, after a long and thorough investigation, New Jersey authorities found a connection between Ho and the triads that forced MGM Mirage Macau, a joint venture with Ho, to sell its stake in a casino to Atlantic City. The report stated that Ho was an associate of known and suspected triads of organized crime and that he authorized organized crime to operate and flourish in his casinos. American game officials suspected that Ho’s VIP rooms in his casinos were used by the triads to launder money. He did not deny these specific allegations, but said that in the 1980s and 1990s, “anyone involved in the game was vulnerable to such accusations”. The Canadian government also found that Ho had links to the triads and several illegal activities from 1999 to 2002.
Ho had 17 children born to four women. Ho called the mothers of his children his wives. Polygamy remained legal in Hong Kong until 1971. Ho leaves behind 14 surviving children with four women. Her daughter Pansy released a statement saying that her father died peacefully.
Unfortunately, the last years of Ho’s life were filled with quarrels within his extended family and illness. He fell home in 2009 and had to undergo brain surgery due to a stroke. After that, his family was divided by a bitter conflict for years until his gaming empire was passed on to his daughter Daisy.
During his long life, Ho became godfather and king of the game. Ho was also the founder and president of Shun Tak Holdings, through which he owned many businesses, including entertainment, tourism, navigation, real estate, banking and air transportation. His companies are thought to employ almost a quarter of Macau’s workforce. Besides Hong Kong and Macao, he has also invested in mainland China, Portugal, North Korea (where he operated a casino), Vietnam, the Philippines, Mozambique, Indonesia and East Timor.
His wealth is shared between his daughter Pansy Ho ($ 6 billion) who owns MGM Macau, his fourth wife Angela Leong ($ 2.4 billion) who is managing director of the holding company Ho of SJM Holdings, and sons Lawrence Ho ($ 2.4 billion) which owns the City of Dreams casino and complex.