Gambling mogul Stanley Ho has died. The passing was confirmed by his daughter Penny Ho, and reported by CityNews. The casino owner was 98 years old when he passed away on Tuesday, May 26. Ho was regarded as the man behind modern gambling in his home country of China. The billionaire ruled the industry in Macao for four decades, and even managed to maintain his status after global companies entered the market in 2002.
Ho had a reputation for lavish spending, while also being influential not only in Macao, but also in Hong Kong. This was, as alleged by U.S. authorities, while having links to organized criminal groups. He also fathered children to four different women, and saw members of his family engage in high-profile disputes over his empire throughout the years. He restructured his business after a legal battle erupted over his fortune in 2012.
Ho became one of the richest men in Asia after building his empire from the ground up. He was head one of the most profitable gambling businesses in the world through his flagship SJM Holdings Ltd, which is valued at around $6 billion. While other industries like the tech industry have created multiple billionaires in recent years, gambling continued to be a major winner for Ho.
License to monopolize
Ho’s reign over the industry in Macao began in the 1960s when he won a government monopoly license. Despite a 40-year dominance over casinos in the one-time Portugal colony, off the south coast of China, however, he asked friends and family to stay away from the industry.
As he grew his fortune, Ho expanded his interests beyond Macao, building both office and residential buildings in Hong Kong, in addition to operating casinos in other countries, including North Korea and Portugal. His personal fortune stood at $6.4 billion after he retired in 2018, months before he turned 97.
SJM Holdings flourished when China’s economy began to open up, creating a flood of new wealth in a country that clearly loves to gamble. A total of 20 Macao casinos are now controlled by SJM. Ho had so much influence in both Hong Kong and Macao that it’s impossible to overestimate. He even had a say in the leadership of each territory. Chinese state media mourned him on the day of his passing, labeling him “a patriotic entrepreneur.”
Ho’s wealth was tied with the growth of what was a tiny fishing town into a wealthy gambling center. As he built up his business there, Ho also built the enclaves connected with the world outside of Macao. His high-speed helicopters or ferries were the quickest ways of traveling between Hong Kong and Macao. But that was before the Las Vegas giants arrived, and later the arrival of the enormous Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge.
There have been many biographies written about Ho over the years, some full of sensational tales of his casino empire and how he outbid older tycoons. Other people who contributed to the bios told of how he also became a well-known property developer, although not in the same way as he was a casino tycoon. Other stories talked about how his family held such influence across the Pearl River Delta.
There was no shortage of controversies in Ho’s life, but many observers saw his as a story about a man who dreamed big and got rich. While the king of gambling is no longer here, many people wanting to learn more about the world of business still seek the wisdom he left behind at the poker table as they strive to make their own dreams come true.