Stanley Ho, the Hong Kong-born tycoon who made billions transforming neighbouring Macau from a sleepy Portuguese outpost into the world’s biggest gambling hub, died on Tuesday at the age of 98, his family said.
Known as the “godfather” of Macau’s casinos, 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.
Family members said 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 told reporters.
China’s state-run CCTV described Ho as a “patriotic entrepreneur”.
Ho monopolised the gaming industry until 2002, when the government introduced foreign investors, sparking a boom which saw casino takings contribute around 80 percent of the city’s annual revenue and overtake Las Vegas.
His Sociedade de Jogos de Macao Holdings (SJM) empire remains a major player in Macau, the only place in China where casinos are allowed.
The company took a hit alongside its competitors after China’s President Xi Jinping launched a high-profile corruption crackdown in 2014, triggering a dramatic decline in high-rollers to Macau.
Gaming revenues bounced back until earlier this year when the coronavirus pandemic emptied casino floors and hammered the industry.
Most operators, however, including SJM, have ample cash reserves built up from the boom years to weather a prolonged downturn.
While many of Hong Kong’s tycoons have rags to riches backstories, Ho initially had a gilded start to life.
He was the great-nephew of one of Asia’s first tycoons, Robert Hotung, an influential Eurasian businessman and philanthropist who was among Hong Kong’s wealthiest individuals at the turn of the 20th century.
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