HONG KONG: Macau casino king Stanley Ho, who built a business empire from scratch in the former Portuguese colony and became one of Asia's richest men, died on Tuesday (May 26) at the age of 98, his family has confirmed.
"My father has passed away peacefully just now at around 1pm at Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital," Ho's daughter Pansy told reporters.
Known as the "godfather" of Macau casinos, the billionaire was instrumental in turning Macau into a gambling boomtown, with gaming revenue surpassing Las Vegas, holding a monopoly until 2002 when the enclave licensed five other operators to run casinos.
The flamboyant tycoon, who loved to dance but advised his nearest and dearest to shun gambling, headed one of the world's most lucrative gaming businesses through his flagship firm, SJM Holdings Ltd, valued at about US$6 billion.
"In Hong Kong, Dr Ho had been someone who carried a lot of weight, was highly respected and cherished Hong Kong ... (We) hope to follow our father's footsteps and carry on the responsibility of giving back to the society," his daughter Pansy told media.
Shares of the companies in the family empire surged after the news of Ho's death. SJM rose as much as 8.5 per cent, passenger transport firm Shun Tak Holdings jumped 17.6 per cent and casino operator Melco climbed 4.9 per cent, outpacing a 2 per cent gain for the benchmark index.
"The market is expecting ... a scramble for inheritance. Under these circumstances there might be changes in company ownership, with some shareholders increasing their stakes," said Kenny Ng, a Hong Kong-based analyst at brokerage Everbright Sun Hung Kai.
Last year, Pansy struck a strategic alliance with four shareholders of Stanley Ho's privately owned Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau, or STDM, the holding company for SJM.
The deal increased Pansy's control over SJM and put the alliance's influence at SJM ahead of Angela Leong, the casino operator's co-chairperson and current wife of Ho.
"Investors are keen on SJM in anticipation that it will become more aggressive in its business approach on the back of stronger control of the company and closer ties among its major shareholders," said Steven Leung, a sales director at UOB Kay Hian.
SMUGGLING, CASINOS AND CHILDREN
While many of Hong Kong's tycoons have rags-to-riches backstories, Ho initially had a gilded start to life.
He was the great-nephew of one of Asia's first tycoons, Robert Hotung, an influential Eurasian businessman and philanthropist who was among Hong Kong's wealthiest individuals at the turn of the 20th century.
But Ho's family fortunes collapsed during the depression years, and when World War II came he fled to Macau virtually destitute.
The war allowed him to make his first fortune - smuggling luxury goods into China from Macau - before securing the only gaming licence in the then-Portuguese colony in 1962.
He also added to his wealth through a property and shipping empire.
A flamboyant entrepreneur and keen ballroom dancer, Ho first married in 1942 but subsequently had three other partners with whom he had children.
He has 17 children, and was forced to restructure his business after a legal battle erupted within the family in 2012 over his fortune - which Forbes pegged at US$2 billion two years earlier.
In 2017, Ho stepped down as chairman from his Hong Kong-based conglomerate Shun Tak Holdings with his daughter Pansy Ho succeeding him.
Pansy was named Hong Kong's richest woman by Bloomberg in 2018.
He stepped down from his flagship casino empire SJM Holdings in 2018 at the age of 96, and handed over the reins to another daughter Daisy Ho and Angela Leong, his fourth "wife".
STDM has stakes in everything from luxury hotels to helicopters and horse racing. Analysts do not expect Ho's death to have an impact on day-to-day operations.
Ho spearheaded what is known in Macau as the junket VIP system, whereby middlemen act on behalf of casinos by extending credit to gamblers and taking responsibility for collecting debts.
Some of Ho's children have become successful gaming operators in their own right. Daughter Pansy is the co-chairperson of MGM Resorts' Macau unit while son Lawrence runs Melco Resorts & Entertainment.