The flamboyant, charismatic and often controversial casino mogul Stanley Ho has passed away in his sleep in Hong Kong. He was 98-years-old.

Ho’s story is so incredible that it’s almost unbelievable. He arrived in Macau during the second world war with only HK$10 to his name. His personal fortune at the time of his death was a gargantuan $10.53 billion.

“The king of gambling” and “the Godfather of gambling” are two names the media attributed to Ho. It’s easy to see why he was held in this high regard. Twenty Macau casinos were under Ho’s control and he’s credited with making Macau the Las Vegas of Asia. There is much more to the story of Ho, although some of it will never reach the public domain.

The Colourful Life of Stanley Ho

Stanley Ho was born in Hong Kong on November 25, 1921. He was born into a wealthy family that had made its money from the British trading company Jardine Matheson. The Great Depression during the mid-1920s saw the family fall on hard times. A now almost destitute Stanley Ho fled Hong Kong to neutral Macau, which was then a Portuguese colony, during the second world war.

It is in Macau where Stanley Ho made his first fortune, despite arriving in Macau with only HK$10. He smuggled luxury good across the Chinese border during World War II and used the proceeds to set up businesses. Stanley Ho set up a successful kerosene company before piling the profits into a construction company.

Hong Kong and the surrounding areas needed major reconstruction after the war. Stanley Ho capitalised on this and became a major player in Hong Kong’s rebuilding. His stature in the community continued to grow and he used his fame and standing to secure a monopoly for Macau’s new legal gambling franchise in 1961.

Stanley Ho quickly realised his casinos needed high rollers to help propel his profits skywards. He built a harbour to accommodate high-speed boats ferrying passengers from mainland Hong Kong.

His empire continued to grow to the point he had 20 casinos under his control. Amazingly, Stanley Ho only retired when he was 96. Even then he continued to offer advice as a consultant.

The Dark Side of Stanley Ho

The casino tycoon was never seen in public without a crisp, tailor-made business suit. The accomplished ballroom dancer was always impeccably presented.

Rumours of links to criminal activity followed Ho Sr. around like a bad smell. The Canadian Government named him as having links to the Kung Lok Triad between 1999-2002. Triad links reared their heads again in 2010 following a thorough investigation.

New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement looked into the affairs of Stanley Ho in 2010. It followed a four-year investigation into Stanley Ho’s suitability to be a casino operator in MGM Mirage’s Macau venture.

The New Jersey DGE compiled a 74-page report into its findings. These included claims Stanley Ho had substantial links and associations with the 14K and Sun Yee On triads. Stanley Ho strongly denied those claims, but they say there’s no smoke without fire.

Those triad links still have ramifications today.

James Packer’s proposed sale of 19.9% of his stock in Crown Resorts was scuppered because of the triad links. Packer agreed to sell his shares to Lawrence Ho, Ho’s son, but Australian authorities launched an investigation into the sale. This happened because Lawrence Ho was named as a director of a blacklisted company. Stanley Ho had links to the blacklisted company.

What Now For the Ho Empire?

The Ho family now have a monumental task of continuing and rebuilding their empire. Stanley Ho was a massive figurehead and character whose boots will never be filled. His family was involved in plenty of infighting before his death. That needs to be nipped in the bud before anything else can happen.

Pansy Ho, one of Ho’s daughter from the second of four wives, now has a key role. Pansy took control of SJM Holdings Ltd when her father retired in 2018. None of the other 13 living children have contested Pansy’s appointment.

That may change at the planned Annual General Meeting on June 9. It is here that Daisy Ho seeks re-election as an executive director. It could be here Daisy Ho flexes her muscles a little more.