Macau Tycoon:Family Fight Gambling Shares
When asked about his main regret, billionaire gambling magnate Stanley Ho was amazingly honest. “One has to sacrifice time sometimes,” he said in a recent interview. “To build an empire one has to make sacrifices and it’s impossible to start at 9 in the morning just to stop at 5 in the afternoon. That’s why I confess I have not been a good husband neither a good father to my children.”
As of late there is bad blood amongst his three surviving wives and 17 children over the family empire and has become Asia’s top version of a soap opera just like the “Bold and the Beautiful”. Leading from the front are Ho’s five Canadian children, including the likes of confidante and businesswoman Daisy Ho, she’s a graduate from Toronto University and second wife Lucina Laam, who revamped a stately home the family still owns on the Bridle Path.
The stakes in this strange saga are high. Ho has built Macau the former Portuguese colony since the 1960s in the bustling gambling metropolis it is today. Macau’s gambling profits now surpasses the Las Vegas Strip by more than three times and taxes on Ho’s companies contribute a third of all the government revenues in Macao. According to Forbes magazine the tycoon is worth $3.2 billion, but some analysts reckon his financial wealth far exceeds this figure.
Stanley Ho is without a doubt China’s most ostentatious billionaire. This 89-year is a lover of ballroom dancing and famous for having a number of wives. The fight for his fortune was instigated when Ho declared that his third wife, Ina Chan and five of his Canadian children have illegally taken control of a 31.7 per cent stake in the holding company that controls his empire.
After the proverbial papaw hit the fan it seemed that Ho had given written permission to the transfer and no longer needed his attorney to fight this dispute. However, filed in a Hong Kong High Court it formally stated the original claim. The feud started last month when Ho in fact handed over majority share in SJM Holdings, which owns 20 of Macau’s 33 casinos to the families of Laam and Chan. This caused a furore since it wife number one’s family was totally against it.
The children of Leitao, who passed away in 2004, said that Ho has totally ignored them and left them out in the cold. “It’s difficult to comprehend that my father would leave my mother’s family with nothing,” said daughter Angela Ho. “My father and I communicate frequently and he’s given me his word that his entire estate would be equally divided amongst all his children.”
According to Angela Ho, it was Leitao’s popularity within the Portuguese society that enabled Ho to start his gambling empire. Family affairs are on edge between family members and Angela Leong, the fourth wife of Ho, she has an eight per cent share in the casino operation that makes her a strong favourite to take over Ho’s empire. It appears as if the Canadian faction of the family is winning this contest and they control much of Ho wealth via his shares in his private holding company called Lanceford. Ho has an enormous fortune locked up in real estate, transportation, infrastructure and gaming and has investments in Portugal, Vietnam and North Korea.
The Canadian children maintain strong ties to Toronto and they also own the home on High Point Road in the Bridle Path which was purchased for a record $5.5 million in 1987. The landmark Sutton Place hotel on Bay Street is also owned by them and a favourite hangout place during the Toronto International Film Festival.
Ho’s children living in Toronto has kept a very low profile. Media shy, Daisy Ho did her MBA at the University of Toronto and she was also the president of the alumni association in Hong Kong. Lawrence, his youngest son did his bachelor of commerce at the University of Toronto. He’s crazy about hockey and plays in a league in Macao. Both children are Canadian citizens, as well as the eldest daughter Pansy. Daisy is the CFO of Shun Tak, her father’s transportation and real estate holding company and is a trustworthy confidante.
In a recent interview asked who would take over her father’s gambling empire Daisy said, “Nobody would talk about that with dad, for one he’s still in very good health. He’s still proactive in the business, even though he’s given us a free hand in the company’s daily operations.” The drama is yet to unfold, Ho is still alive and kicking still very popular to a billion Chinese who’s familiar with his story from rags to the god of gambling. To shun a lifetime of tedious jobs, Ho worked hard and finally succeeded in landing an esteemed scholarship to the Hong Kong University.
“When war broke out I started from scratch in Macao, I was employed by Chinese, Portuguese and a Japanese firm,” he said. “To make a millions those years was very easy in comparison with today.” Ho returned to Hong Kong after the war and invested in real estate. He won the public tender for Macao’s gambling domination in 1962. Ho lost his domination when the Portuguese colony reverted back to Chinese rule in 1999. U.S. and Australian based companies entered the market; however it also created new opportunities for Ho still controls at one third of the strip. His son Lawrence is co-owner of Melco Crown Entertainment with James Packer, the wealthiest man in Australia’s. Pansy and Daisy are co-owners of MGM-Macau.
The children learned one valuable lesson from the infamous father. Although running and managing a major gambling company, Daisy Ho is not a gambler. She’d learned a valuable lesson from her father; she lost $20 at the casino tables when she took a Mediterranean cruise. “I felt sick about losing the money and I’ve never gambled since”.[addtoany]