Hong Kong (China) (AFP) – Macau gambling tycoon Stanley Ho, who has announced his retirement from his flagship company SJM, made his riches by transforming neighbouring Macau from a sleepy Portuguese outpost into the world’s biggest casino hub.
Known as the “godfather” of Macau casinos, 96-year-old Ho was instrumental in turning the city on China’s southern coast into a gambling boomtown, with gaming revenue surpassing Las Vegas.
Ho is the great-nephew of one of Asia’s first tycoons, Robert Hotung, among Hong Kong’s wealthiest individuals at the turn of the 20th century and an influential Eurasian businessman and philanthropist.
Ho made his fortune smuggling luxury goods into China from Macau during World War II, before securing the only gaming licence in the then-Portuguese colony in 1962.
A flamboyant entrepreneur, Ho first married in 1942 but subsequently had three other partners, one of whom is a lawmaker in Macau. It is unclear whether or not he married all the women he called wives.
He has said that he had never wagered a bet, even as his casinos continued to rake in billions in revenues annually.
The keen ballroom dancer cultivated a playboy lifestyle, fathering at least 17 children, one of whom, Lawrence, runs rival casino and hotel operator Melco International in Macau.
The billionaire monopolised Macau’s gaming industry until 2002, when the government introduced foreign investors, sparking a boom which saw casino takings contribute around 80 percent of the city’s annual revenue.
But his casino-hotel business took a dive after Chinese President Xi Jinping launched a high-profile corruption crackdown in 2014 which triggered a dramatic decline in high-rollers in the city.
Ho’s hotel giant Sociedade de Jogos de Macau Holdings (SJM) saw its net profit for 2014 drop 13 percent and saw an even steeper profits fall of 63 percent for 2015.
Profits continued to decline in 2016, which saw a 6 percent decrease from the year before, and continued to fall by the half-year point of 2017.
The lower profits were compounded when his nephew Alan Ho, executive director for the company’s Hotel Lisboa, was caught along with 96 sex workers in 2015 after police broke up a prostitution ring. He spent 14 months in jail.
SJM Holdings is trying to lure back visitors with the sprawling new Grand Lisboa Palace complex, which will feature Versace and Lagerfeld hotels, reportedly due to open in 2019 in a bid to diversify from gambling and attract more mass-market tourists.
Ho has been keeping a low profile after a serious fall in 2009 at the age of 87 which left him requiring brain surgery.