The King of Casinos is No More. Long Live the King.

Posted by: on Jun 6, 2020 | No Comments


The “King of Gambling” and the “Godfather of Macau,” Stanley Ho, passed away on May 26, 2020, at the age of 98. Ho is credited with transforming the sleepy town of Macau into the most popular gambling destination in the world, ahead of even Las Vegas. At the time of his demise, Stanley Ho was estimated to have been worth $14.9 billion.

Ho’s life has been inspirational, as a self-made billionaire, who made the most of whatever life put before him. It was his knack for identifying opportunities that made him the businessman that people all around the world can look up to.

However, he wasn’t just a shrewd deal maker, he was known as the “patriotic entrepreneur” in China. He was known for his philanthropy, making multi-million-dollar donations to educational institutions and even pledging $2.5 million towards a chair in Chinese history, at Oxford’s Pembroke College.

Finding Opportunities in Adversity

When Ho was just a teenager, living in Singapore with his family, his father deserted, plunging them into poverty. During World War II, when Japan invaded Hong Kong, Ho fled to Macau in 1941, where his great uncle, Sir Robert Hotung, was a prominent businessman and the first person of Chinese descent to find residence in the city’s prestigious neighbourhood of Victoria Peak.

Stanley Ho made is first million here, seizing every opportunity to trade whatever goods were required in China, from rice to kerosene. However, it was only when the Portuguese handed Macau back to China, after ruling the region for over 400 years, that opportunity really knocked on Ho’s door. Along with a group of investors, Ho created SJM Holdings Limited, which won the exclusive right in 1962 to operate all of the city’s casinos, right up to 2001.

So, over the course of 40 years, Stanley Ho went on to amass great wealth, not just through his casino monopoly, but by diversifying his investments, including investing in Singapore’s real estate market.

In 2002, China opened up Macau’s casino industry to foreign investment. Gaming licenses were awarded to Galaxy Entertainment Group, Melco Resorts & Entertainment, MGM China Holdings, Sands China and Wynn Macau, apart from SJM Holdings.

In 2007, SJM built the most iconic structure on the city’s skyline, the Grand Lisboa, a 48-storey building, shaped like a lotus.

The Future of the Ho Empire

With the demise of the “King of Macau,” all eyes are now on his eldest daughter, from his second wife, Pansy Ho, who has been her father’s favoured successor for some years now. She became the chairman of one of the city’s largest conglomerates, SJM Holdings, and co-chair of MGM China Holding Ltd, when Stanley Ho finally decided to retire after a long and eventful career.

Now, Macau expects Pansy Ho to consolidate control over the immense network of casinos, operated by SJM and MGM China, while also taking care of the helicopter and ferry routes that link Hong Kong to Macau. The responsibility that has fallen on Pansy’s shoulders is immense, given the huge and complicated family structure, with a sister and brother who are also in line to succeed Stanley Ho, and SJM’s holdings split across three branches of the Ho family.

She also has the unenviable responsibility of rejuvenating SJM’s aging casino franchise, amidst a pandemic that has brought the casino industry’s revenues crashing. When the industry does re-open and tourists are allowed to travel to Macau, the competition in the casino industry is likely to be much fiercer than before. Unfortunately, SJM was already losing market share to more dynamic casino operators for some time now.

The complicated division of power at SJM could make it move slower than its competitors, given that it was already slow to build a casino on the up-and-coming Cotai strip. Now, the opening of the new casino at Cotai, Grand Lisboa Palace, has been pushed from end-2020 to March 2021.

It is always difficult to fill in large shoes. And, Ho certainly set the bar high, making his billions through sheer hard work and shrewd investments. How will the King’s empire fare after his demise? Only time will tell.

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