2018 has seen a seismic shift in the global gaming industry with a changing of the guard across three continents. First, it was James Packer, then Steve Wynn and now Macau gambling king Stanley Ho, one of Asia’s richest men, has announced his retirement as chairman and executive director of SJM Holding after the company’s annual general meeting on June 12.
Ho, 96, will stay on as Chairman Emeritus to the company. Daisy Ho, one of his daughters who is already on the board, will take over the reins of the business.
Ho’s departure from the company marks the end of an era for Macau’s gambling industry. The tycoon was known as the King of Gambling, though he professed never to gamble himself. His company, The Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau, controls 20 of Macau’s 38 casinos as well as a string of other business interests that extend his reach into most corners of life, including the Macau Jockey Club, Shun Tak Holdings, which operates the ferries and hydrofoils shipping gamblers into the territory and a stake in Macau’s international airport.
He held a monopoly over the territory’s casino industry for four decades before it was opened to competition in 2002.
Born in 1921 into the Ho Tung family, one of Hong Kong’s most powerful and respected clans, Mr Ho faced hardship early in his life. Robert Ho-tung, his father, went bankrupt in the great depression and abandoned the family. Two of Mr Ho’s brothers committed suicide. Mr Ho won a scholarship to study at Hong Kong University but was forced to abandon his studies by the outbreak of the Second World War, when the family fled advancing Japanese troops to Macau.
Mr Ho began his career at a Japanese-owned import-export firm in Macau. His entrepreneurial flair led the firm to make him a partner when he was just 22. According to Joe Studwell’s book ‘Asian Godfathers’, Mr Ho made his first fortune running luxury goods into China during the Second World War. He set up a kerosene company in 1943, and later profited from the post-war construction boom in Hong Kong.
In 1962, Mr Ho invested his profits to win monopoly rights over gambling in Macao, as part of a consortium of businessmen. Their firm, the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macao, which owns the SJM, introduced western-style gambling and improved transport between the island and Hong Kong.
Gambling had been legal in Macao ever since 1847, but Mr Ho and his consortium brought about a revolution in the gambling-tourism business, which now accounts for half its GDP. Macao’s gambling revenues overtook Las Vegas in 2007 and are expected to rise to over $30 billion this year, on the back of greater arrivals from mainland China.