Casino jackpot that has a family at odds

The 'King of Macau' is ceding control of his vast gambling empire – so who will replace him? Clifford Coonan on a dynastic battle

The battle for Asia's biggest casino empire is threatening to tear apart the family of Stanley Ho, as the 89-year-old "King of Macau" says his relatives have divided up the gambling empire he created without his consent.

In an epic struggle with shades of the soap opera Dallas, Mr Ho has found himself at odds with his children and fighting to keep control of the casino operator Sociedade de Jogos de Macau Holdings (SJM), which he built up over five decades.

And with four "wives" and 17 children, there are plenty of potential challengers to his crown. The controversy began after SJM informed the Hong Kong stock exchange on Monday that Mr Ho had transferred to family members all but 100 shares of his roughly 32 per cent stake in SJM's parent company, STDM.

Mr Ho's lawyers said he "discovered much to his horror" that his 100 percent ownership of Lanceford Co. – which holds the 32 per cent stake in STDM – had been diluted after new shares were issued, reducing his share to one per cent, the South China Morning Post reported.

Half of the shares in Lanceford were then transferred to a company owned by Mr Ho's third wife Ina Chan, and the other half to another company owned equally by the five children by his second wife Lucina Laam – Pansy, Daisy, Maisy, Josie and Lawrence.

All this went on, Mr Ho claims, without his consent, and he has instructed his lawyers to take action against family members. While he concedes that he signed a document, he says no one explained what the effect would be.

The transfer of his assets went against Mr Ho's wishes to divide them equally among his 16 children, his lawyer Gordon Oldham told the South China Morning Post.

"What really upsets him is that he's not even dead yet, but in the twilight of his life his second and third families appear to be squabbling and pinching it for themselves," Mr Oldham told the paper. "There's no doubt that he has all his faculties."

The family denies seizing Mr Ho's shares, saying the billionaire approved the transfer of his holdings in STDM.

There is a lot at stake. SJM is Asia's largest casino operator, running 20 casinos in the world's biggest gambling market.

Macau is the only place in China where gambling is legal. Mr Ho was ranked Hong Kong's 13th richest man with a net worth of £1.96bn by Forbes magazine earlier this month.

The patriarch has been getting his affairs in order since spending seven months in hospital in 2009.

Mr Ho reportedly had brain surgery after hitting his head in a fall, and has rarely appeared in public since. Last month he transferred his 7.7 per cent stake in SJM to Angela Leong, the mother of his five youngest children, after he was released from hospital.

The complicated nature of Mr Ho's family structure means a murky succession battle has always been on the cards.

His first wife, Li Wan Hua, died in 2004 at the age of 80. His other three "wives" – Lucina Laam, Ina Chan and fourth wife Angela Leong – are not formally married to him, but are generally referred to as his spouses.

The succession battle is hitting the company, and analysts at investment banks have downgraded the company on fears that the row could distract the management.

Many of his children have a high profile themselves in Asia. Pansy Ho is the Macau partner of the US company MGM Resorts International, while Josie Ho is an actress and singer. His son Lawrence is CEO of Melco Crown Entertainment, a casino operator which is a joint venture with Australia's Crown Ltd.

He has had family problems before, having long been embroiled in a lawsuit with his sister Winnie over control of his assets.

Mr Ho is something of a legend in the former Portuguese enclave. He first made his fortune smuggling goods between China and Macau during the Second World War. Once his boat was captured by pirates and the crew killed, but he managed to take a gun from his captors and seize back his vessel.

Mr Ho began to build his gambling empire back in the early 1960s, when he bid for the Macau gaming monopoly that the Portuguese put up for grabs in what was then a sleepy colony, overshadowed by Hong Kong.

Once he secured the concession, he began to transform Macau, commissioning high-speed ferries to bring high rollers from Hong Kong.

Throughout his career he has been accused of having links with Triad gangs in Macau, though he denies the accusations. Certainly some of the big Triad figures, such as the notorious "Broken Tooth" Koi, were regular visitors to the Lisboa casino during the heady days of the 1990s before the Las Vegas crew came to town.

The alleged links to organised crime have also caused problems for the children. Because of her associations with the family business, New Jersey casino regulators last year deemed Pansy Ho too close to organised crime to be a partner with New Jersey casino licence holders.

Foreign operators such as billionaire Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas Sands Corp came to Macau after the city's government ended Mr Ho's monopoly in 2004.

He responded to the loss of SJM's monopoly in the territory and the advent of Las Vegas interlopers by building the Grand Lisboa, which looms over the whole of the territory, like a reminder to the Nevada arrivistes of where the whole story started.

A family affair...

Angela Leong

Ho's fourth wife is a dancer and the biggest individual shareholder of SJM Holdings Ltd.

Lawrence Ho

Born to Ho and his second wife, he is the CEO of Macau gaming firm Melco Crown Entertainment.

Pansy Ho

One of Asia's most influential businesswomen, she maintains a partnership with MGM Resorts.

Ina Chan

Ho's third wife, also known as Chan Un-Chan, now owns a majority stake in the firm that controls casino giant SJM Holdings Ltd.

Stanley Ho

The 89-year-old's $3.1 billion gambling empire held monopoly rights over Macau's casinos since the 1960s. He had four wives and 17 children.

Daisy Ho

Ho's daughter from his second wife is managing director of the property and transportation wing of the Ho empire, Shun Tak Holdings Ltd.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own