Friday, June 3, 2011

Stanley Ho-Macau casino king's billions

The elder Ho's casinos extend across the Pacific Rim and include those in fringe markets like North Korea and Vietnam.

The tycoon shuttles between Hong Kong and Macau by helicopter or on one of his high-speed jetfoils, while overseeing a far-flung business empire that includes banking, broadcasting, air services and a horse racing monopoly in Macau.

Besides the roulette wheels and slot machines that made his fortune, Ho also runs luxury hotels around Asia as well as plane, ferry and helicopter services and major real estate projects.

His Hong Kong-listed conglomerate, Shun Tak Holdings Ltd HK, boasts the world's largest jetfoil fleet, carrying visitors between Hong Kong and Macau, an hour's voyage apart.

Well into his 80s, the dapper Ho loved to play tennis and ballroom dancing -- his fourth wife was a dance teacher -- courting the limelight with his jet-setting lifestyle tracked as closely as Asia's movie stars.

Born in Hong Kong in 1921 and related to the famed and wealthy Ho Tung family of Chinese and European descent, Ho's privileged upbringing was short-lived. At 13, his father lost everything in the stock market and fled to Vietnam, abandoning his wife and children.

Ho was determined to succeed and earned a place at the University of Hong Kong. Though World War Two intervened, Ho's luck held. He left school and worked for seven days for the Air Raid Service Department before the Japanese captured Hong Kong.

"I earned HK$10 ($1.28) out of the seven days ... then I went to Macau," he once told Reuters in an interview.

"I was a very poor man," he said. "I started with only HK$10. That was my capital." He got a job with the Macau government, bartering goods with the Japanese. The experience led to his own trading company and he became a millionaire.

In the early 1960s, he bid for the Macau gaming monopoly being offered by the Portuguese in the largely forgotten Asian outpost.

Ho won the concession, built a new harbor, added high-speed boats to lure Hong Kong's avid gamblers and created the cash cow that made his Asian empire possible.

Ironically, the casino king doesn't gamble.

"I have always told my children and my good friends: 'For God's sake, never gamble heavily and if you can avoid it, don't ever gamble'," he told the Far Eastern Economic Review in 1999.

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