Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho dies at 98

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HONG KONG: Hong Kong-born tycoon Stanley Ho, who made billions transforming neighbouring Macau from a sleepy Portuguese outpost into the world's biggest gambling hub, died yesterday at the age of 98, his family said.

Known as the "godfather" of Macau's casinos, Mr Ho was instrumental in turning the semi-autonomous city on China's southern coastline into a gambling boomtown.

He fathered at least 17 children, and speculation about how his vast fortune would be divided among his offspring has long occupied Hong Kong's tabloid media alongside public family feuds.

Family members said Mr Ho passed away shortly after 1pm in hospital.

"My father will live in our family members' hearts forever, and the hearts of all the people who benefited from him and were encouraged by him," daughter Pansy Ho told reporters.

China's state-run CCTV described Ho as a "patriotic entrepreneur".


Mr Ho monopolised the gaming industry until 2002, when the government introduced foreign investors, sparking a boom which saw casino takings contribute around 80 per cent of Macau's annual revenue and overtake Las Vegas.

His Sociedade de Jogos de Macau Holdings (SJM) empire remains a major player in Macau, the only place in China where casinos are allowed.

While many of Hong Kong's tycoons have rags to riches backstories, Mr Ho initially had a gilded start to life.

He was the great nephew of one of Asia's first tycoons, Mr Robert Hotung, an influential businessman and philanthropist who was among Hong Kong's wealthiest individuals at the turn of the 20th century.

But Mr Ho's family fortunes collapsed during the depression years, and when World War II came, he fled to Macau virtually destitute. The war allowed him to make his first fortune - smuggling luxury goods into China from Macau - before securing the only gaming licence in the then Portuguese colony in 1962.

Mr Ho said he had never wagered a bet, even while his casinos continued to rake in billions in revenues annually. He also added to his wealth through a property and shipping empire.

Bloomberg estimates his family empire is worth US$14.9 billion (S$21 billion). - AFP