The Ho Casino Empire begins to emerge from the shadow of the late Patriarch


Stanley Ho, the legendary game mogul who died one year ago this month, left a complex legacy.

This is perhaps not surprising for a man who had fewer recognized partners (four) but more children (17) than Henry VIII. It also caught the interest of the board of directors of its flagship Macau gaming company, SJM Holdings.

SJM’s board of directors is now headed by Daisy, the late Patriarch’s daughter from his second marriage. One of his two co-chairs, Angela Leong, was Ho’s fourth wife. His third wife, Chan Un Chan is also director of SJM.

For nearly a decade, as Ho’s health faltered, the SJM was the subject of what relatives of the protagonists call “the war between the second and fourth families.”

This war was finally won by the Second Family in 2018, when Daisy took over as President of SJM from her father. Less than a year later, the Second Family further consolidated their hold over Ho’s empire when Daisy’s older sister Pansy announced an alliance giving it effective control over SJM’s parent company.

The question now is whether Daisy can chart a new course for SJM, whose development was constrained by Ho’s conservatism.

When Macau’s gambling market was liberalized in 2002, ending Ho’s 40-year-old monopoly, new entrants led by Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands built huge new complexes on the Cotai Strip – a vast shed in land condition that connected the two previously separate remote islands of Macau, Coloane and Taipa. .

Adelson, died at January, and its leaders were often dismissive of Ho, who stubbornly clung to a collection of no-frills casinos on the densely populated Macau peninsula.

A November 2006 photo showing Stanley Ho, center, on his 85th birthday with, left to right, daughters Daisy, Pansy, Maisy, Josie and son Lawrence in Hong Kong © Ym Yik / EPA / Shutterstock

When I sat down for an official interview with William weidner, then president of Sands, just before the opening of the Venetian Macao in 2007, I expected him to be respectful of the new arch-rival Adelson. Instead, he said that on his first visit to Macau in 1980, the Ho’s Lisboa casino reminded him of “the rooster fight scene in The deer hunter ”. “We in Las Vegas,” Weidner added, “couldn’t believe a place as poorly executed as the Lisboa. [financially] like he did.

Ho has remained committed to his old business model of catering for high-flying “whales” in quiet VIP rooms. But Adelson was convinced that China’s emerging middle class, when it wasn’t wasting money at its baccarat tables, wanted Las Vegas-style resorts, shows, and convention centers.

When it opened in the summer of 2007, the $ 2.5 billion Venetian had 3,000 hotel rooms and 1.2 square meters of convention space. As an impressed friend of mine said at the time, “it’s like playing in an airport, only bigger”.

The popularity of the new generation of Macau casinos, which quickly propelled the territory far beyond Las Vegas as the world’s largest gambling market, proved Adelson to understand his Chinese clientele better than Ho.

Ho, however, was not the type to admit defeat. In his first – and last – note from the president of the SJM, in the group’s 2008 annual report, he said that the company would continue to “focus on the gaming industry we know best and deliver an attractive product aimed at to a targeted clientele ”. He also proudly described the Macau Peninsula as the “home port” of the LSU.

A sign of the group’s long period of drift, from 2009 to 2017, Ambrose So, SJM’s interim CEO, will sign the first overview of activities in his annual reports before finally handing the pen to Daisy in 2018.

Over the next few months – and some 14 years after Macau’s Venetian transformation – SJM will finally venture out of Ho’s shadow with the opening of its integrated Grand Lisboa Palace complex on Cotai.

The timing could hardly be less auspicious, as Macau continues to move away from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year, visitor arrivals and gross gaming revenue in the territory fell by 85% and 79% respectively from 2019. But visitor numbers are finally starting to increase after Macau reopened its borders to travelers. from mainland China in August.

For SJM, a lot will depend on his appointment in June of a new COO, Frank McFadden. Ho initially poached McFadden from Adelson in 2006 to oversee the opening of SJM’s current flagship casino, the Grand Lisboa.

McFadden, an Irishman who has often told his friends he looks forward to retiring to County Donegal, has made it clear he believes a new era awaits SJM. “My mandate”, he said In Asian Gaming magazine shortly after his appointment, “is for change”.

tom.mitchell@ft.com



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