Stanley Ho, a well-known gambler who died one year ago this month, he has left a difficult legacy.
This is perhaps not surprising to a father who had fewer (four) partners but more children (17) than Henry VIII. It also led to another exciting event for his popular Macau company, SJM Holdings.
The SJM board is now headed by Daisy, the deceased stepdaughter from her second marriage. One of the two chairmen, Angela Leong, was Ho’s fourth wife. His third wife, Chan Un Chan is also the director of SJM.
For a decade, when Ho’s health began to decline, SJM was the subject of a series of so-called “war between the second and fourth families”.
This battle was won by a second family in 2018, when Daisy replaced her father as SJM chair. Less than a year later, the second family reaffirmed Ho’s rule when Daisy’s older sister, Pansy, announced agreement empowering him in the SJM company.
The question now is whether Daisy can create a new SJM course, whose development was undermined by Ho’s conservatism.
After Macau’s gambling market was released in 2002, at the end of Ho’s 40-year-old, new entrants under the leadership of Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands built a major center in Cotai – a major point connecting two islands outside Macau, Coloane and Taipa.
Adelson, who died January, and its superintendents often ignored Ho, who was a staunch supporter of the unstable casinos on Macau Island.
When I sat down to talk to them on-record William Weidner, President of the Sands, shortly before the opening of Venetian Macao in 2007, I hope he will honor Adelson’s arch-enemy. Instead, he said on their first visit to Macau in 1980, Ho’s Lisboa casino reminded him of the “cockroach contest in The Lion of the Horse ”. “We in Las Vegas,” Weidner added, “could not believe a place that had not been killed like Lisboa [financially] as it happened. ”
Ho married his old business of eating “whales” running in the quiet VIP rooms. But Adelson was convinced that developing Chinese people, while not losing money on the baccarat table, wanted venues, exhibitions and conference venues in Las Vegas.
Opened in the summer of 2007, the $ 2.5bn Venetian owned 3,000 hotel rooms and 1.2m sq ft of meeting space. As one of my friends who was impressed at the time “it’s like gambling at an airport, but it’s great”.
The popularity of Macau’s casinos, which soon ran the Las Vegas area as the largest gambling market in the world, confirmed Adelson’s understanding of his Chinese customers more than ever before.
Ho, however, was not one to admit defeat. In his opening remarks – SJM Chairman, in the 2008 regional report of the group, said the company will continue to “focus more on the sports business we are familiar with and provide something tangible to potential customers”. He also proudly claimed that Macau Island is the “home” of the SJM.
At one sign of the group’s temporary departure, from 2009 to 2017 Ambrose So, SJM’s chief executive officer, signed a bill to open his annual reports before handing over a note to Daisy in 2018.
In the next few months – and 14 years after the Venetian shift to Macau – SJM will emerge from the shadow of Ho and open the Grand Lisboa Palace in Cotai.
The timing may not be as dramatic, as Macau continues to travel due to the Covid-19 epidemic. Last year, visitors to the region and revenue for the game fell 85% and 79% respectively, compared to 2019. But the number of visitors is now set to rise after Macau reopens its borders for travelers from northern China in August.
For SJM, much depends on the appointment of a new chief executive in June, Frank McFadden. Ho first brought in McFadden from Adelson in 2006 to oversee the opening of SJM’s latest casino, Grand Lisboa.
McFadden, an Irishman who frequently tells friends he hopes to retire in County Donegal, has said he thinks a new season will make for SJM. “It’s my job,” he told Inside Asia Gaming magazine as soon as he is elected, he is “changing”.