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Macau Handover

Is sun setting on Stanley Ho's regional empire?

stanley.ho
Stanley Ho  

December 18, 1999
Web posted at: 10:09 a.m. HKT (0209 GMT)

Stanley Ho, who has enjoyed a monopoly on Macau's gaming industry for more than 35 years, may soon find himself facing the greatest odds of his career.

The 78-year-old, self-made billionaire, who sat on many important committees created to oversee Macau's return to China, could lose his grip on the region's economy and power players.

The Far Eastern Economic Review reported in its December 9 edition that Ho is nervous about Macau's return to China.

Ho's gambling monopoly in the region, which he won in 1961, is set to expire in 2001 and his friend Edmund Ho, who will become the enclave's first chief executive on December 20, hasn't said if that license will be renewed.

Various news agencies have reported that calls for competition within the industry have been growing, and there has been speculation Beijing could impose tight controls on the sector to combat gang violence, which many have suggested is an offshoot of gambling.

"If there is more than one licensee, there will be fighting between the two licensees. This would be dangerous," Stanley Ho, who is not related to the chief executive, told the Far East Economic Review.

He also told the Review greater competition within the industry would cut deeply into government revenues because the casinos would slash betting prices to attract customers. Higher unemployment, he added, would also occur as casinos cut staff to spend more money on incentives for gamblers.

Ho -- commonly referred to as "Sun Gor," or "big brother Sun" -- is one of Asia's wealthiest men. His net worth is estimated at $2.8 billion. He controls Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM), an umbrella company for many of his holdings.

STDM recorded $231 million in net profits in 1998, a 50 percent drop from 1997, the Review reported. The company's revenues fell 18 percent to $2 billion -- attributed in part to the Asian financial crisis -- during the same period. Ho reportedly earned $29 million in dividends in 1997 and $14 million in 1998.

Ho's business interests outside Macau are managed by Shun Tak Holdings, which is listed in Hong Kong. He also owns the world's largest fleet of jetfoils, which is used as a ferry shuttle service between Macau and Hong Kong.

Ho has investments in North Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines. He also owns several of Macau's landmarks -- including casinos, hotels and the complex that houses the territory's largest department store -- as well as large stakes in the horse racing and lottery action.

"There is too much economic power concentrated in the hands of STDM," Macau legislator Ng Kuok-cheng told the Review. "Most Macau people feel there should be more competition."

The Review reported Edmund Ho is expected to renew Stanley Ho's gambling license, perhaps to 2010, to ensure government revenues aren't reduced, and to allow the region's government time to ensure the competence of potential operators.

Stanley Ho, born into a distinguished family in 1921 in Hong Kong, started working as a clerk in a Japanese-owned import- export firm in Macau. He had fled his home after Hong Kong fell to the Japanese in 1941.

He won the trust of his employers and was named a partner within the year. In 1961, his brother-in-law, Teddy Yip, offered him a partnership in a company set up to bid for a casino franchise in Macau.

The company, later named STDM, won the bid with the highest offer plus promises to promote tourism and build infrastructure. Ho developed the new harbor and helped shape Macau's reputation as a gateway to neighboring economic zones in China.


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