Gambling Legends: Stanley Ho

Posted on August 25th, 2008

So who is Stanley Ho? You might not have heard of him if you haven´t spent much time in south-east Asia, but if you have ever been to Hong Kong or Macau, chances are that you´ll know the name. Ho is one of the world´s richest men (latest estimates put his business empire at a figure of around $8 billion).

He has recently hit the news again this month following the IPO of his Macau gambling flagship company Sociedade de Jogos de Macau. Despite a late spanner thrown into the works from estranged sister Winnie, Ho has recently listed his gambling empire to better take on the growing threat from the new kids on the block from Las vegas, which are turning up the heat in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, which is an hour´s jet-foil ride away from that other metropolis across the Pearl river delta: Hong Kong.

Stanley Ho is a “Tai-Pan” who has made his fortune in Hong Kong, Macau and South-East Asia. Known as “The King of Gambling” or “The Macau Gambling Prince”, thanks to the gambling monopoly he secured from the Portuguese during the heady days of the sixties. He certainly knows his sic bo from his craps.

Ho´s businesses account for around 1/3 of the GDP of Macau. You can see why he is called “Mr Macau”.
His taxes account for about 30% of the Macau government’s take; and his companies employ more than 10,000 people- comfortably the largest empolyer in the SAR (Special Administrative Region of China).

Stanley Ho was born in Hong Kong, a member of the Ho Tung family, one of the most powerful family units of the times. He is of mixed descent- his great-grandfather was Dutch-Jewish, whose wife was Cantonese. His family was very wealthy, but went from riches to rags when his father lost a fortune in the stock market crash: his father later abandoned the family, leaving Stanley Ho with 2 elder sisters and his mother.

Ho was a hard worker, and despite a below par performance at school grafted hard and earned a scholarship to the University of Hong Kong. He learnt English, Japanese and Portuguese while at university- linguistic skills that were to stand him in good stead in the coming years.

Ho began work as a cleric at a Japanese-owned trading firm in Macau. Thanks to his knowledge of 4 languages, he rose quickly through the ranks and became at partner at the tender age of 22. He impressed his employers so much that he was given one million as a bonus- an unthinkably large sum in those days.

Ho used the bonus to invest in Hong Kong and made some big money from real estate. Then came his big break. Ho bid for Macau gambling licences from the Portuguese government. Ho and his partners bid high and had an aggressive plan to promote Macua on the tourist map and to set up transportation across the Pearl River Delta between Hong Kong and Macau.

They won the contest by paying around $400,000. Looking at his empire now, that yielded a result with some return on investment!

And so the famous Lisboa Casino hotel was born- it became the landmark in Macau and world famous. Ho´s other company Shun Tak Holdings Ltd, owns a large fleet of high-speed jetfoils, the transportation for his customers between Hong Kong and Macau and a key part of Ho´s strategy.

When Portugal agreed to return Macau to China in 1999. Ho was closely involved in brokering the deal. Ho now controls the Macau Jockey Club, the Ka-Ho Port and an oil terminal.

In the mid nineties, Ho and partners turned their attention to developing Macau´s $1.1 Billion international airport. Ho also owns 14% of the shares of Air Macau, not to mention interests in the Macau World Trade Center, , television network, golf courses, roads, bridges and electricity company. He has his fingers in many pies, as you can see.

We shall see where this latest page in the fasinating story of Ho´s life takes him. Will the IPO work out? Will he be able to claw back share from the Las Vegas upstarts? With his contacts, you wouldn´t bet against him.

And one last piece of trivia for you. Did you know Bruce Lee and Stanley Ho are cousins? Bruce Lee’s mum is the daughter of the brother of Ho Fook, Stanley’s grandfather.

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