In Western culture, its a little strange that some billionaire can have so many wives + not encounter human rights issues as a polygamist.   In Asian culture, buck$ = babes!  So for many centuries now, those who could afford several families would have several families.   It was a sign of wealth.  But at life's end, things are not always so clear cut!

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In Western culture, its a little strange that some billionaire can have so many wives + not encounter human rights issues as a polygamist.   In Asian culture, buck$ = babes!  So for many centuries now, those who could afford several families would have several families.   It was a sign of wealth.  But at life's end, things are not always so clear cut!   Succession for Asian families is a very difficult issue.   Trust is not common between the generations or within Chinese families.   Money is often used as a weapon...   >>  More

Succession Issues Plague the Ho Dynasty

An Asian godfather reshuffles

After several false starts Stanley Ho, Macau's erstwhile casino monopolist, at last broke through a logjam of litigation and scepticism this week and took his ailing gambling franchise public, agreeing on July 2nd to sell a 25% stake for some $500m.  SJM Holdings, as his company is now known, owns 19 of Macau's 29 casinos and has the biggest market share, but its lead is tenuous and the deal was not an easy sell. Hong Kong's new-issuance market is weak after many disastrous offerings this year, and for what Mr Ho wanted to sell - some shabby casinos built to serve what used to be a captive market - it is weaker still.

In 2004 SJM had revenues of HK$34 billion ($4.4 billion), 85% of the total for Macau's gambling industry. Three years later Macau's gambling revenues have doubled, but SJM's have declined. New figures suggest that it may soon lose its leadership to Las Vegas Sands, which owns two giant casinos, the Sands and the Venetian, that are as glittering as SJM's are grim.

A year ago, when a listing of SJM was first being broached, SJM might have expected to be valued at 14 times cashflow, rather than today's seven times, says Billy Ng, a securities analyst at JPMorgan.  Back then the Hong Kong market for public offerings was euphoric and the full impact of the entry of two rival firms from Las Vegas, Wynn and Sands, was not so apparent. Efforts to seize that opportunity, however, were delayed by a deluge of litigation by Mr Ho's sister, Winnie, who has long feuded with him over the management of the family's various casino operations. The legal fight postponed a planned listing in January. To allow the deal to proceed this week, investors have been indemnified against any related legal costs.

The offering document was littered with titbits about Mr Ho's empire. He turns out to have an interest in a casino in North Korea; stakes in five of SJM's largest suppliers, including the ferries that bring punters to Macau; and interests in local horse- and dog-racing franchises, a Chinese lottery and various hotels and property.

Disclosing all this information cannot have been easy for Mr Ho. For years he has trod a difficult line, being one of Hong Kong's most visible personalities and appearing at society events, while also running a complicated, mysterious business empire. Why, given the weak market, has he chosen to bring it all to light now?

All that glitters…

Perhaps it is the first step in a more profound rehabilitation of SJM, prompted by Mr Ho's acceptance of just how badly it has been gored by foreign competitors. In February 2007 SJM responded with its own elaborate casino across from his old flagship, the Casino Lisboa. But the new Grand Lisboa is far from packed and still lacks an occupancy licence for the hotel above the gaming floor. A public listing now may not bring in much money, but it provides a way to raise money in future and grant ownership stakes to more competent managers. Mr Ho must have realised that the game has changed.     - 2008 July 3   THE ECONOMIST

Casino magnate's wife stepping into TV role

Angela Leong On-kei, wife of casino magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun, confirmed she is in discussions to buy a stake in TVB Pay Vision Holdings.

"The details still need to be studied," Leong told Eastweek. "I am optimistic about the pay television market, as many people are willing to pay for it at the moment."

Television Broadcasts (0511) announced last Wednesday that it would sell off a 20 percent stake in the pay-TV company.

According to a source, Leong will team up with a Macau investor to buy a 20 percent stake of TVB Pay Vision for HK$140 million. Leong declined to confirm these details.

After the deal, TVB Pay Vision Holdings majority shareholder See Corporation Limited (0491) will still hold its 51 percent stake. TVB's holding will be reduced to 29 percent from the current 49 percent.

The deal is expected to strengthen TVB Pay Vision vis-a-vis its larger competitors, Cable TV and Now TV.

Leong's purchase can reduce TVB's subsidy to TVB Pay Vision, Goldman Sachs said in a report.

The pay-television company has been in the red since its launch, owing to the firewall provisions in the broadcasting licenses which require free-TV license holder TVB to operate independently from TVB Vision.

Leong has also been investing in property, catering and the stock market in recent years.

Two years ago, she joined the board of gaming company Sociedade de Jogos de Macau and was also elected to Macau's Legislative Assembly.

Leong has invested more than HK$3 billion in the property market in the past few years.

The television industry is her next step. "I would like to divert investments into other industries," she said.  - THE STANDARD      2007 September 5

ICBC buys Stanley Ho's bank in Macau
The Chinese bank pays $590 million to acquire an 80% interest in Seng Heng Bank from Stanley Ho and CEO Patrick Huen

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China said on Wednesday it will acquire Macau’s third largest lender, Seng Heng Bank. ICBC, China’s largest bank, will pay HK$4.55 billion ($590 million) for a 79.93% stake in the Macau bank, which is majority-owned by Stanley Ho.

Seng Heng was established in 1972 and acquired by Ho's company Sociedade de Tourismo e Diversoe de Macao (STDM) in 1989. It had assets of HK$24.6 billion and profits of HK$302 million for the latest financial year ended December 31, 2006. It has nine branches and 47 ATMs in Macau. The sell-side was advised by Credit Suisse.

The net asset value of Seng Heng Bank as at June 30, 2007 was HK$1.80 billion. The price agreed between the sellers and ICBC is based on an NAV assumption of HK$1.86 billion and allows both sides to adjust the price to reflect upward or downward revision in the assumption. Goldman Sachs advised ICBC.

The price represents an NAV multiple of about 3.1 times, using the assumed NAV, and represents an earnings multiple of around 19 times trailing earnings.

The deal can be benchmarked against the August 2006 acquisition by China Construction Bank of Bank of America’s 14 Hong Kong and three Macau branches for HK$9.7 billion. The price paid by China Construction Bank represented a book value multiple of 1.32 times net assets and 18.1 times trailing earnings.

ICBC will pay HK$3.98 billion for the 70% controlling stake in Seng Heng Bank owned by STDM, Stanley Ho’s flagship gaming, recreation and property development company. (Ho is Seng Heng’s chairman and managing director.)

Additionally, ICBC will pay HK$565 million to Seng Heng's chief executive officer, Patrick Huen, for another 9.93% in equity. Huen will continue to own a 20.07% stake in the bank and be entitled to proportionate representation on the board.

Huen has agreed to a three-year lock-up for his residual holding and has negotiated a tag-along right should ICBC decide to dilute its ownership below 51% during the lock-up. After three years, ICBC will have the first right of refusal on Huen’s shares at the same price at which he can sell them to a third party. ICBC also has a call option on Huen’s shares at the end of three years at a price as per a pre-determined formula.

The consideration will be paid in two tranches: 85% upon completion and the balance of 15% will be placed in an escrow account for six months post completion. The escrow account funds will be used to settle any claims or arbitration against the sellers and the reduced amount will then be paid to the sellers. Completion is expected by March 2008 and both the sellers have agreed to a non-compete for a period of three years.

The announcement follows one day after the opening of the Venetian Macao, one of Asia's largest casino resorts, which is expected to reinforce the standing of Macau as a premier gaming destination. Some speculation has arisen that the acquisition represents a way for China to exercise tighter control on Macau’s gaming industry and its cash inflows and outflows.

That may well be the case but it is equally true that for ICBC, which has 2.51 million corporate banking customers and 180 million personal banking customers, the acquisition gives it a strong foothold in a region which seems set to continue to grow and takes the bank nearer to its stated goal of being a “first-class international financial institution”.    - FINANCE ASIA    2007 August 30

Stanley Ho shells out record HK$69m for Qing sculpture

(HONG KONG) Casino billionaire Stanley Ho paid a record HK$69.1 million (S$13.3 million) for a Qing Dynasty bronze, preventing a controversial auction of the looted artwork by Sotheby's. Mr Ho planned to donate the horse head sculpture to China.

Equine gift: The bronze, looted in 1860, was originally scheduled to be auctioned but MrHo pre-purchased the piece and will donate it to China

The work is one of 12 zodiac animals from a water clock fountain in Yuanmingyuan, the imperial summer palace, according to Sotheby's, the world's biggest publicly traded auction house. The palace was set ablaze and its treasures plundered and scattered by British and French troops in October 1860. Earlier this month, Sotheby's said that it would auction the sculpture in Hong Kong on Oct 6, sparking protests from Chinese officials.

'Dr Ho bought the horse head and will be donating it to China,' said Janet Wong, Mr Ho's Hong Kong-based spokeswoman.

In 2000, Hong Kong protesters demonstrated outside Sotheby's auction site when it sold the water clock's tiger head. Hong Kong lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, who helped initiate that protest, said that he may hold another if Sotheby's auctioned the horse head.

In 2003, Mr Ho bought the clock's boar head at a private sale and donated it to Beijing's Poly museum, an arm of the People's Liberation Army. Poly museum also has the monkey and ox. The rabbit and the rat belong to a private European collection, while the whereabouts of the other zodiac signs are unknown.

Sotheby's had previously said that it expected the horse head sculpture to fetch as much as HK$80 million at the auction.

The price Mr Ho agreed to pay is the highest for a Qing Dynasty sculpture, according to a statement from the auction house.

Sotheby's decided to sell the bronze to Mr Ho 'given his good intention to donate the bronze to China', said Rhonda Yung, the auction house's Hong Kong-based spokeswoman.

Earlier this month, Xu Yongxiang, a buyer for China's state-run Shanghai Museum, said that the horse head was 'stolen property' and should be returned to the Chinese government.

Sotheby's Asia chief executive Kevin Ching said on Sept 5 that the proposed auction was legal. The 1995 United Nations Unidroit Convention limits claims on stolen cultural artifacts to within 50 years of their theft.

The horse head had been billed as the highlight of a four-day auction in Hong Kong starting on Oct 6. -- Bloomberg   2007 September 21

Stanley Ho's sister wins bid to fight case in HK
HK judge allows her case against Ho to be heard

The estranged sister of casino magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun has won the latest round of an epic sibling battle, with a judge allowing her to pursue a claim against the tycoon in Hong Kong amid threats to her safety in Macau.

Family fall-out: Ms Ho is challenging her sacking as a director of Mr Ho's flagship firm in 2001. She's unwilling to pursue her legal action in Macau following threats to both her and her lawyers

Winnie Ho Yuen-ki is unwilling to travel to the former Portuguese enclave to pursue legal proceedings against her brother following a number of threats to both her and her lawyers. Two of her legal representatives have also been physically assaulted.

In a significant victory this week, a Hong Kong judge allowed a challenge by Ms Ho to her sacking as a director of Stanley Ho's flagship Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM) in 2001 and her removal as a shareholder in 2005 to be heard in Hong Kong.

Despite recognising that Macau is the natural venue of choice, Justice Michael Hartmann cited 'an attempt by thuggery to prevent the plaintiff (Ms Ho) from pursuing what she believes to be her legitimate rights through the courts of Macau.'

The judge continued: 'I have found there is cogent evidence that, if the plaintiff is forced to bring her action in Macau, her personal safety, and that of her representatives, may well be at risk.'

The court heard that in September 2002, Ms Ho's then solicitor CK Mok was assaulted by a number of men in Hong Kong.

A further assault took place a few months later near Mr Mok's home. Following the second attack, Mr Mok backed out as her legal counsel.

Two years later, Ms Ho received two letters warning her not to come to Macau. 'Remember CK Mok,' it said. A few months later, two of Ms Ho's new legal representatives also received threatening letters.

More recently, her legal counsel in 2006, Albert Ho - who is also a legislator in Hong Kong - was brutally attacked in broad daylight at a McDonald's restaurant. It left him hospitalised for a number of days.

Police investigations have not been successful, the judge noted. 'But the fact remains that two solicitors of unblemished professional integrity have been assaulted, one of them twice, the only known common denominator being the fact that, at the time of the attacks, both were representing the plaintiff in her Macau litigation,' he said.

The decision to allow the case to be heard in Hong Kong will be a significant blow to the casino magnate, who will be forced to air the family's dirty laundry in public. The pair fell out in 2001 when the government of Macau put up a number of casino licences for tender, ending STDM's monopoly.

Ms Ho had wanted to sell her shares in the company. STDM had alleged, however, that Ms Ho and her son wanted to secure a casino licence, thereby putting the two in direct competition with the company.

She was subsequently removed as an executive director, and later as a shareholder. Ms Ho claims her brother used unlawful means to prevent her from transferring her shares to third parties, and caused her economic loss.

She is also claiming her brother defamed her in 2001 by telling the media she was in financial difficulties and owed money to STDM. Ms Ho claims she was further defamed in 2006 when her brother made comments about her litigation against STDM. - by Jane Moir   SINGAPORE BUSINESS TIMES   9 August 2007

Stanley Ho's daughter files blank cheque IPO

(NEW YORK) Angela Ho, daughter of billionaire casino operator Stanley Ho, filed to raise US$100 million through an initial public offering of a blank-cheque company.

The Asia Special Situation Acquisition Corp, based in George Town, Grand Cayman, plans to sell 10 million units for US $10 each, according to a filing yesterday with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The units will include one share and one warrant, which will enable the holder to purchase common stock for US$7.50.

The offering is for a blank-cheque company, also known as a special-purpose acquisition company, or SPAC. Shares of the shell company are sold to the public to finance a merger or acquisition that the executives haven't yet identified.   Blank- cheque companies have raised US$4.9 billion in 37 IPOs this year, compared with US$3.2 billion in 36 offerings all of last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The company plans to search for an acquisition in the leisure, hospitality or financial services industry in Asia, with a special focus on China, the filing said.

Before the offering, insiders will purchase 5.73 million warrants for US$1 each, the filing said. The underwriter has the option to sell an additional 1.5 million units if there's enough demand.

Shares will be listed on the American Stock Exchange.  Maxim Group LLC is underwriting the sale.

Stanley Ho was ranked 104th among the world's richest people in 2007 with an estimated net worth of US$7 billion, according to Forbes Magazine, the filing said.

Until 2000, Mr Ho held a government-granted monopoly in the Macau gambling industry.

Macau is the only Chinese city where casinos are legal.

Gaming revenue surged after the government awarded licences to companies including Las Vegas Sands Corp and Wynn Resorts Ltd, ending Mr Ho's four-decade monopoly. --  Bloomberg    8 August 2007

Stanley Ho unfazed by competition
His Casino Lisboa is still Macau's top, despite new entries

Stanley Ho, the billionaire who lost his four-decade Macau gaming monopoly in 2002, hasn't let new competitors such as Las Vegas Sands Corp shake his dominance of a gambling market forecast to match Las Vegas's by 2008. 

The 25-year-old Casino Lisboa, Mr Ho's flagship, has averaged HK$50 million (S$10.6 million) in daily gross gaming revenue since Sands opened Macau's first Vegas-style casino in May 2004, said Manuel Joaquim das Neves, director of the Chinese city's Gaming Control Board.

Daily spending has averaged HK$20 million at the US$265 million Sands, which has 30 per cent more gaming tables and four times more slot machines than the Lisboa.

The tycoon's Melco International Development Ltd has said it will build a second casino with Kerry Packer's Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd (PBL).

The companies paid US$214 million for land on Macau's Cotai Strip, where Las Vegas Sands Corp wants to develop a US$12 billion Vegas-themed gambling strip. The casino will feature an underwater gaming hall with 450 tables and 3,000 slots, Sydney-based PBL said in a statement on Thursday. The complex will also have two hotels, a shopping mall and a 4,000-seat concert hall.

Mr Ho, 83, is staying ahead because of his lock on Macau's so-called VIP market, which consists of about 4,000 gamblers - mostly from mainland China - who bet an average US$1 million per visit, Mr Neves said. They accounted for 70 per cent of Macau's US$5.1 billion in gaming revenue last year, he estimated.

'Stanley Ho dominates the VIP market,' Mr Neves, 45, said in an interview. 'He has the contacts, and he has a huge headstart in the business.'

The Lisboa faces a new wave of competition from casino and hotel operators targeting a broader clientele as Macau, a former Portuguese enclave and the only place in China where casinos are legal, opens its gaming market. Tourist arrivals to the city, an hour from Hong Kong by ferry, rose 45 per cent to a record 16.7 million last year, and gaming revenue rose 43 per cent, according to government figures. The city's economy expanded a record 28 per cent.

Xinhua news agency reported yesterday that official figures show Macau recorded 4.45 million visitor arrivals in the first quarter, an increase of 18.8 per cent from the same period of 2004. Figures from the Macao Statistics and Census Service (MSCS) showed that the region, which registers 465,000 residents, hugged in 596,860 package tourists in the quarter, a 9.8 per cent year-on-year increase.

Chinese mainlanders made up some 75 per cent of the package-tour arrivals in March, according to the statistics.

So far, Mr Ho's 13 casinos have two competitors: Sands and Galaxy Casino SA, a privately-held casino operator controlled by Hong Kong construction tycoon Lui Che-woo that opened a US$62 million Macau casino in July.

Its competitors are also expanding. Sands said in February 2002 after it won a concession license from Galaxy that it would build a second Macau casino replicating its Venetian-themed Las Vegas resort. The US$1.8 billion Macau Venetian Casino Resort, scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2007, will feature 3,000 suites, 850,000 square feet of retail space and artificial canals and gondoliers.

Sands is joining with hotel operators including InterContinental Hotels Group Plc and Four Seasons Hotels Inc to develop a US$12 billion Las Vegas-themed gambling strip in Macau. Las Vegas casino operator Wynn Resorts Ltd, led by Stephen Wynn, also plans to build a Macau resort. The company said in a May 4 statement it would add a US$345 million wing to the US$700 million casino it plans to open in 2006.

Sociedade de Jogos de Macau, known as SJM - controlled by Mr Ho's 42-year-old daughter, Pansy Ho - last year formed a 50-50 venture with Las Vegas-based MGM Mirage to build the US$975 million MGM Grand Macau, due to open in 2007. MGM Mirage said in a statement that the waterfront casino will boast private villas, a spa and 1,000 slot machines. - Bloomberg   14 May 2005

Stanley Ho ups the ante with plans for residential and hotel investments in the face of new casino operators

Stanley Ho Hung-sun's Shun Tak Holdings plans a $1 billion expansion binge in Macau, betting that the economic resurgence in the former Portuguese colony is more than just a run of good luck.

Shun Tak deputy managing director Daisy Ho said at the company's annual general meeting yesterday that the firm would invest $680 million in a one-million square foot residential project, Nova Taipa Gardens phase two, in Macau.

The company had also identified a site for a new hotel and entertainment complex and would invest a total of $1 billion in Macau's property and hotel market over the next three to five years, Ms Ho said.

Observers say the company's Hong Kong land bank is close to exhaustion and it will need to concentrate on investment alternatives in Macau.

The opening of the Sands casino last month and the Galaxy casino, while not the best of news for Mr Ho's gambling operations, will create myriad opportunities for Shun Tak in other sectors of Macau's economy.

Shun Tak managing director Pansy Ho Chiu-king said the liberalised gambling industry would help rejuvenate the hospitality sector and related businesses.

"We would like to ride on the improved investment opportunities in non-gaming industries," she said, pointing out the firm had no plans to increase its stake in Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM).

Yields at the group's hotels - Mandarin Oriental Macau and Westin Resort Macau - had gone up by up to 40 per cent in the first quarter of this year, Pansy Ho said.

Their yields jumped 200 per cent during the Labour Day golden week holiday over the previous week.

"Our hotel business has been boosted significantly after the relaxation of the mainland's individual traveller scheme," Pansy Ho said.

Shun Tak owns 11 per cent of Mr Ho's privately held STDM, which is heavily exposed to the gambling business in Macau through its 80 per cent-held subsidiary Sociedade de Jogos de Macau.

Last year, STDM raised its stake in Shun Tak to 13 per cent, sparking speculation that it may inject its casino operation into the Hong Kong-listed company.

Pansy Ho refused to comment directly on the impact of the Sands casino on STDM's gambling business in Macau.

But for Shun Tak's ferry services, she said the new arrival had been a windfall.

"The number of ferry passengers has been growing by a single percentage point every day in the first week after the opening of Sands casino," she said.

She said that negotiations with Sands over the installation of ferry ticket dispensers inside its casino were under way, and that Galaxy planned to offer monthly Shun Tak ferry tickets to its customers. - by Sandy Li    SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST    4 June 2004       

HK's first executive airline takes off

Hong Kong Express, chaired by Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho, launched the city's first executive airline yesterday with its main target the lucrative Chinese market.

The airline, formerly Helicopters Hong Kong and of which Mr Ho is one of the main shareholders, said it wants to take advantage of the growth in business travel between Hong Kong and China. It will fly daily to the southern city of Guangzhou by next month and later to Hangzhou, Nanjing, Chongqing and Ningbo.

'There is the opportunity if you look at it, now with CEPA (a trade agreement between Hong Kong and China) and the opening of Disneyland (in Hong Kong), the economic climate is perfect, the timing is right,' said Andrew Tse, the airline's chief executive officer and one of its two primary shareholders along with Mr Ho.

The airline has leased four Embraer 76-seat aircraft and Mr Tse said its fleet may have up to 10, targeting international travellers who go to China through Hong Kong. 'With smaller aircraft, we can have more frequencies. This is the model we want to offer and provide shuttle services (to the customers),' he said, adding that the airline has travel rights to 10 other Chinese cities. It is also looking at destinations outside China, including the Koh Samui resort in Thailand. - AFP     4 August 2005

Stanley Ho building biggest Macau casino

(HONG KONG) Macau tycoon Stanley Ho yesterday unveiled plans for what will be the gambling haven's largest casino, the Oceanus, a colossal downtown entertainment complex covering three city blocks.

The casino, which will replace the ageing Jai Alai in the heart of the former Portuguese enclave, is expected to cost some HK$6.2 billion (S$1.3 billion) and be completed in 2009.

It will feature a 600-room hotel and a 180-metre apartment tower as well as the city's largest commercial and retail centre.

'We had to conceive a building that could become a landmark, with a strong symbolic appearance that shows not only the dynamism of a fast-changing Macau but also continuity from the past,' architect Paul Andreu told reporters.

Mr Andreu, the designer of the controversial egg-shaped National Grand Theatre in the Chinese capital, Beijing, said that he wanted the casino to be the first thing passengers arriving at the nearby ferry pier saw. 'People leaving Macau will look back with some regret,' he added.

Oceanus will be Mr Ho's 15th casino in the city, cementing his position in the downtown area. The complex will be linked to the ferry pier - which he owns and plans to redesign.

The combined development will practically encircle Sands Macau, the first American-owned casino to open in the enclave and whose arrival last May spearheaded a renaissance in the once ailing gaming sector, which last year earned some US$5 billion, a shade short of that earned in Las Vegas.

Another two American gaming companies are building casinos in the Chinese territory, taking advantage of foreign operator rules that were relaxed three years ago, robbing Mr Ho of a gambling monopoly that he had had for more than 40 years.

The sudden growth of casino business in Macau has been driven by a huge increase in the number of mainland Chinese visitors to the city, who accounted for 80 per cent of the 17 million arrivals last year.

Meanwhile, gross casino revenue in the gaming-friendly Chinese enclave is seen rising more than 40 per cent in April from the same month last year, a Macau government source said last week.

Total gross revenue for Macau's 17 casinos was estimated at 3.7 billion patacas (S$755 million) for the month, the source, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

For the first four months, the casino sector's gross receipts rose more than 20 per cent to 13.9 billion patacas from 11.5 billion patacas in the same period last year, the source said.

Mr Ho's Hung Sun's Sociedade de Jogos de Macau (SJM) accounts for about 70 per cent of the territory's gaming market, with the balance equally shared by Hong Kong-owned Galaxy Casino and the local unit of Las Vegas Sands Corp, which runs Macau's first American-type casino, the Sands.

The casino industry generated a record total for gross revenue of 40 billion patacas last year, more than doubling over the previous three years, according to official figures. - AFP, Reuters     4 may 2005

Shun Tak set for $1b tourism spree

If gaming mogul Stanley Ho is losing gamblers to the new Las Vegas casino operators invading his Macau stronghold, he intends to make up at least some of it by ferrying new legions of punters to the tables via his fast ferries and putting them up when they get there.

Over the next three to five years, Macau-Hong Kong ferry service provider, Shun Tak Holdings, Ho's flagship operation, plans to invest HK$1 billion on tourism-related businesses, the company announced yesterday.

The city, whose tourism industry is being boosted by the influx of mainland tourists and casino visitors recently, should have plenty of room for hotel development, managing director Pansy Ho said.

Speaking after Shun Tak's extraordinary general meeting yesterday, Ho said the opening of the new Las Vegas Sands casino has lifted the company's shipping operations.

``We have reported single-digit growth in passenger traffic since the opening of Las Vegas Sands. It is quite substantial growth in terms of daily figures and I hope it will be sustainable,'' Ho said.

Macau's casino industry, which has been monopolised by Stanley Ho over the past four decades, was opened up to other new players in 2002.

``I believe the casino business is the driving force to lift other sectors,'' Pansy Ho said.

Shun Tak, she continued, has no plans to become directly involved in the new gaming operations, although it holds 11.48 per cent of Sociedade de Jogos de Macau (SJM).

``Instead, we will launch more infrastructure and hotel projects in a bid to cater to the rising number of tourists,'' she said. ``We plan to use about HK$1 billion for those projects.''

She said the company would first strengthen the transportation and local tourism business network in the city. ``We have entered into agreements with bus service providers to operate cross-border routes. We are also applying for licences to operate travel agency businesses,'' Ho added. ``After establishing a comprehensive system of sale and distribution, we will start our hotel projects.''

The managing director said the company is eyeing a central area prime site for hotel development.

But, she said ``no further details can be revealed at this stage as negotiations are still ongoing''.

In the first quarter of this year, Shun Tak's profit margin for hotel rooms increased by 30-40 per cent. The profit margin during the week-long Labour Day holiday surged by 200 per cent.

Ho said the company would welcome collaboration with new casino players so long as the operations are profitable.

Shun Tak, she said, is in talks with Las Vegas Sands to set up self-service TurboJet ticket machines within the casino.

Shun Tak has also reached an agreement with Galaxy Casino for the purchase of a substantial amount of ferry tickets every month. But details have yet to be finalised.

Last year, Macau authorities allowed two new concessionaires in the casino industry - Wynn Resorts, headed by Las Vegas gaming magnate Steve Wynn, and Galaxy Casino, led by Sheldon Adelson.

As to tourist-related businesses, deputy managing director Daisy Ho revealed the company would invest HK$680 million in the second phase of Nova Taipa Gardens.

Shares of Shun Tak dropped 2.33 per cent yesterday to close at HK$3.15.        -  By Eli Lau        HONG KONG STANDARD     4 June 2004

Let the gaming begin

Any Macau citizen or tourist who decided to avoid spending money on Stanley Ho Hung-sun's properties would find life very difficult. After all, the 82-year-old mogul owns a jetfoil fleet, the Macau Tower, several hotels ranging from three- to five-star, Macau's only television station and a newspaper, not to mention 12 casinos under Sociedade de Jogos de Macau (SJM).

Even Mr Ho's rival, Sheldon Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas-based The Venetian, whose Sands casino opened on Tuesday, stayed at the Westin Resort, a Stanley Ho property.

With the debut of the Sands ending 42 years of Mr Ho's gambling monopoly, many in Macau wonder if his family-run empire can remain indomitable. In a way, Mr Ho's dramatic "high noon" entrance at the Sands opening ceremony already proved his invincibility.

The gaunt Mr Ho strolled into the opening ceremony minutes after Mr Adelson had started his speech, and took a seat that was reserved for him in the front row, directly in front of Mr Adelson.

Mr Adelson spontaneously stopped his speech and thanked Mr Ho for coming. "I have to learn how to be like Dr Ho when I grow up," Mr Adelson said with impromptu humour. "I want to learn to dance and to play tennis like Dr Ho does."

Once the lion dance ended, although Mr Ho's comments to the press were humble and non-provocative, the frantic shouting of questions from reporters and the incessant camera flash lights spoke volumes: Stanley Ho was running the show.

"We both have the opportunity to learn from one another. Anything they can do better, anything they can help in the gaming [industry], I am going to learn," Mr Ho told the press throng.

That was a low-profile and non-aggressive comment, given that he could have repeated a statement in January when he said he was confident that SJM would maintain 70 per cent of the market share in the face of competition.

Meanwhile, Macau Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah, who usually attends large and small community and commercial events in Macau, was significantly absent from the Sands opening. When the Crystal, which is operated by SJM, opened in May last year, the chief executive did attend.

And even as the champagne flutes were clinking to the success of the Sands, workers were busy as ants on expanding the SJM casino empire. In March, construction work started at a former football pitch next to the Lisboa, Mr Ho's flagship property since the 1970s.

The $2 billion, 40-storey casino-hotel is estimated to take 18 months to complete, but Mr Ho had said he was keen to finish it as soon as possible. The facade will be in the shape of a lotus flower, the emblem of Macau. It will feature a luxury casino, shopping arcade and a three-level car park.

Another project, pending government approval, is to convert the New Yaohan building into a casino. The New Yaohan, located just off the ferry pier in Outer Harbour, is the city's largest department store. The Macau Daily News, the city's largest Chinese newspaper, reported that the department store would likely relocate to the Nam Van area, a less-developed commercial district.

In the long run, Macau's expanding gambling industry would entail benefits for both SJM and its Las Vegas competitors, said Davis Fong Ka-chio, research co-ordinator at the Institute for the Study of Commercial Gambling at the University of Macau.

"Stanley Ho's market share will drop, that's for sure, but decreasing market share does not equal losing money," Mr Fong said. "Instead, when the layers of people in the Lisboa somewhat dissipate, it becomes easier for everyone who wants to gamble to place their bets. The profit generated by each table will go up."

As the four casino operators - SJM, The Venetian, Wynn Resorts and Galaxy - square off against each other, Mr Fong said he expected the competition would manifest in improved service quality. "Another way to compete is by changing the rules of the games to lower the house advantage or to lower commissions, and at this point I do not see that happening with the Sands," he said. "Instead, more smiles from the staff and forfeiting compulsory tipping would be the effective method to make customers feel more comfortable."

Macau observers say that since the Macau government announced in 2001 that the gaming industry would be liberalised, service quality has already started increasing at SJM casinos. Low-paid dealers who used to take up to 10 per cent tips from punters on their own accord no longer did so when SJM increased their salaries.

But with competition from the Sands, and from the Galaxy Waldo casino-hotel slated to open on June 18, the need is pressing for higher quality services at SJM casinos and the gaming industry in general.

"Employees do not have to be loyal to one monopoly any more," said a hotel human resources executive. "They can look at the whole package including pay, working conditions and working hours of different companies to make a decision."

But as Sands alone would be employing about 4,500 people by this summer, demand is rising for dealers and other gaming industry professionals, especially those who speak fluent English and/or Putonghua.

Other industry insiders say Stanley Ho might not have to struggle as much as speculated, because The Venetian and Wynn Resorts lack experience in the Macau market and might not be the strongest competitors that could have come from Las Vegas.

Indeed, although the newly opened Sands features sumptuous decorations and spacious comfort that many mainland punters have never experienced, the casino plays mostly western songs in its halls. On the screen that spans the first-floor stage, a video shows American dollars gliding in a whirlwind.

While some Sands dealers are employed from mainland China and do not speak comprehensible Cantonese or English, many supervisors speak only English.

"The Venetian only operated casinos in the Las Vegas strip for five years, while Steve Wynn (owner of Wynn Resorts) does not even have a casino or hotel in Las Vegas right now, after he sold Mirage," the source, who asked to remain anonymous, said. "The Macau government did not choose MGM, they chose The Venetian and Wynn. What does that tell you?"

MGM Mirage, a leading casino and entertainment company, had courted SJM to discuss a joint concession before each placed their bids to win a casino-operating concession from the Macau government. But when the two companies decided to bid on their own, MGM Mirage finished fifth among 21 local and foreign bidders.

MGM Mirage operates 14 casino resorts in the US and Australia, including the world-famous Bellagio, Mirage and Treasure Island casinos in Las Vegas.

Other observers, who are less optimistic about Stanley Ho's capability for competition, think that a joint venture with MGM to operate the new casino-hotel next to the Lisboa could break the stalemate for Mr Ho.

In March and April this year, there were reports that MGM was continuing talks with SJM, trying to strike a deal while bypassing the need to bid for any concession. But details of the talks have not been announced and cannot be confirmed.

Many in Macau still want to see Stanley Ho, one of their own, succeed in his fight against the American ventures of The Venetian and Wynn Resorts. They feel thankful towards the Stanley Ho family for implementing a vision for Macau and making the enclave the city it is today.

Mr Ho's empire has been a major contributor to Macau's economy. Of the Macau government's $1.4 billion tax revenue last year, Mr Ho contributed 69 per cent. His gaming and tourism operations were estimated to account for 50 to 60 per cent of Macau's $6 billion GDP.

On the other hand, there is also a strong general sentiment that Stanley Ho, known as "the Godfather of Macau" and "the King of Casinos", wants to monopolise as much as possible in the city, regardless of the fact that not all of his businesses are thriving.

For instance, the Teledifusao de Macao (TDM), Macau's only television station, reported in March a loss of $61 million patacas (HK$59.2 million) last year, a loss that was 11.2 per cent smaller than previously posted. The local media reported this as good news.

Mr Ho invested in the International Airport of Macau and has stakes in Air Macau. He is also a major investor in the Fisherman's Wharf, an amusement park on the Outer Harbour, bordering the Sands, to be completed in early 2005. He also has stakes in the golf course, the electricity company, the horse racing track, and roads and bridges.

As Macau taxi driver Ho Chi-wan, put it, "Maybe Ho Hung-sun himself cannot count what he owns, he has to ask his accountant."

But perhaps one source involved with security for the new casino summed it up best: "I don't think we've seen the last of Stanley Ho." - by Freda Wan     South China Morning Post      21 May 2004

At 81, the casino billionaire Stanley Ho makes few concessions to age. The father of 17 children says he swims every day, plays tennis at least twice a week and enjoys ballroom dancing.

And no, he adds, he has not thought of retiring from the helm of Sociedade de Turismo e Diversõesde Macau, or STDM, one of the world's most profitable casino companies, based in the autonomous South China enclave of Macau. "I feel that I am fit enough to carry on," he says.

Ho is going to need that stamina. After monopolizing gambling in the former Portuguese colony for the past 41 years, he is about to be challenged for the first time on his home turf.

When Macau - 65 kilometers (40 miles) across the Pearl River estuary from Hong Kong - reverted to Chinese rule in 1999, the local government opted not to renew Ho's monopoly once it expired at the end of 2001. The Macau government also permitted two Las Vegas casino billionaires - Steve Wynn, chief executive of Wynn Resorts, and Sheldon Adelson, chairman of the Las Vegas Sands and its subsidiary, Venetian Casino Resort - to open their own casinos there. The first U.S.-owned casino, Adelson's Macau Sands, will open by March 2004.

"Stanley has had a very successful operation," says Marc Falcone, New York-based managing director and gambling stock analyst at Deutsche Bank Securities, who visited Macau last year. "But he's going to face competitive challenges he has never faced before."

Wynn and Adelson have pledged to invest a total of $1.6 billion in Macau, which has a population of just 440,000 but last year attracted a record 12 million visitors. It is the only place where the 1.3 billion people of greater China - including Taiwan and Hong Kong - can legally gamble in casinos.

Ho has profited handsomely from the gambling trade. Last year, his 11 Macau casinos earned $230 million on revenue of $2.7 billion. That 8.5 percent profit ratio is better than that of any of the top three U.S. gambling companies: Park Place Entertainment lost $824 million on sales of $4.6 billion; Harrah's Entertainment earned $235 million on sales of $4.1 billion, for a 5.7 percent ratio; and MGM Mirage earned $292 million on sales of $4 billion, for a 7.3 percent ratio.

STDM is also more profitable than Société des Bains de Mer et du Cercle des Etrangers à Monaco, which owns the Casino de Monte Carlo and last year made a profit of $21 million on sales of $298 million

"Of Macau, Las Vegas and Monte Carlo, Macau arguably has the most potential because of the population it can draw on," says Ron Kramer, New York-based president of Wynn Resorts, which plans to build its casino directly opposite Ho's flagship, the Casino Lisboa

Falcone of Deutsche Bank wrote in a December report that each of the 340 tables in Ho's Macau casinos returns to the house 10 times as much money on average as those of Las Vegas casinos.

"Macau represents one of the most exciting potential opportunities in the gaming industry," he says. "The demographics are extraordinary. It's a substantially underpenetrated market."

Last year, Macau's economy grew 9.6 percent - almost four times the rate of Hong Kong's. That was due to a 20 percent growth in visitor arrivals, according to the Macau government, 90 percent of which were gamblers from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Gross domestic product per capita is $15,500 - higher than Portugal's $14,100.

The economy's ebullience is one reason Ho and his daughter Pansy, 41, his fifth child and a co-director of his two main companies - STDM and Shun Tak Holdings - are confident they can take on what Pansy describes as "the onslaught of the newcomers.""Why should I feel worried?" Ho asks. Ho, who declined to be interviewed in person, responded to written questions via e-mail. He says that as a young man, he had to fight off Chinese triad gangsters and pirates who tried to cash in on his businesses. "All my life I have loved challenges and never accept no for an answer," he says.

Over the next two years, Ho is investing $600 million to build three theme parks and two new casinos and to convert part of an office and residential tower into a new five-star hotel.To further strengthen his hand, Ho is talking to MGM Mirage - which is controlled by another billionaire octogenarian, Kirk Kerkorian, 86 - about setting up a joint venture casino adjoining Ho's Lisboa, according to Manuel Joaquim das Neves, director of the Macau Gaming Control Board.

"Negotiations with MGM are progressing positively," says Ho, who adds that he expects to reach an agreement by the end of the summer. Alan Feldman, spokesman for MGM Mirage, which owns the Mirage, Bellagio and Treasure Island casinos in Las Vegas, says talks have taken place with members of Ho's team and that no deal has been finalized.

Last year, Ho's gaming and tourism operations accounted for 50 to 60 percent of Macau's $6 billion GDP, says Fung Kwan, an economist at the University of Macau. The gambling taxes Ho paid made up 69 percent of the Macau government's $1.4 billion in tax revenue, according to the Macau Monetary Authority.

Spokesmen for the American casino operators say they hope to turn tiny Macau - 26 square kilometers, or 10 square miles, of densely stacked tenements, cobbled streets and centuries-old Portuguese forts and churches - into the Las Vegas of Asia. Their casinos will not only offer U.S.-style gambling; they will also have entertainment and convention facilities, their spokesmen say. Adelson plans to disclose details of his strategy at a news conference in Macau on Tuesday. Wynn, who was chairman of Mirage Resorts from 1972 to 2000, has focused on offering non-gambling attractions to lure people to Las Vegas, such as erupting volcanoes, glamorous entertainment extravaganzas, luxury retail stores and fine dining.

Adelson, too, has concentrated on supplementing his casino business with entertainment and conventions. In 1979, he developed the Comdex computer show, now billed as the world's largest trade show.

But investors are betting that Ho can withstand the Las Vegas invasion and continue to prosper. The share price of Ho's main publicly traded company, Hong Kong-listed Shun Tak, has surged by about 140 percent since December 2001, when Ho's monopoly concession expired. 

During the same period, the benchmark Hang Seng index in Hong Kong has fallen by 15 percent.Eric Yuen, an analyst at Dao Heng Securities in Hong Kong, says investors figure that Ho's company is a good investment because it has so many ways of benefiting from the gambling business. Gamblers in Macau will be hard-pressed not to spend some money in one of Ho's hotels, ships, aircraft and shops or to pay fees at his automated teller machines.

Shun Tak owns the fleet of high-speed ferries that operate 24 hours a day, taking gamblers on the one-hour, $16 trip between Hong Kong and Macau.

STDM owns a stake in Air Macau, a regional airline, as well as 100 percent of the second-biggest local bank, Seng Heng Bank. Between them, STDM and Shun Tak own 80 percent of Macau's first-class hotel rooms, Ho says.

Investors interested in Macau's gambling revenue may have more options soon. In March, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange lifted a ban on companies whose main business is gambling, provided that the companies do not conduct gambling in Hong Kong.

Ho says he is prepared to go to the most unlikely places to open casinos if he can get a license and make a profit. In 2000, he spent $30 million to open the Casino Pyongyang, which is located across the street from Kim Jong Il's Workers Party headquarters in the North Korean capital.  - William Mellor     Bloomberg News   21 July 2003

Macau Gambling tycoon STANLEY HO has real estate investments in North America including the Sutton Place Hotels in both Vancouver and Toronto

Dr.Ho is actively involved in a strategic decision-making capacity for numerous companies. In Hong Kong, he holds the positions of Group Executive Chairman of Shun Tak Holdings Limited and Chairman of Melco International Development Limited and President of The Real Estate Developers Assocation of Hong Kong. In Macau, he is Managing Director of Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau, S.A.R.L. and Sociedade de Jogos de Macau, S.A., Vice-Chairman of CAM - Macau International Airport Company Limited, Chairman of Seng Heng Bank Limited, and Chairman of Macau Jockey Club.

Apart from being the holder of honorary doctorates of social sciences from The University of Hong Kong and University of Macau, Dr.Ho also holds a number of key positions in academic governance: Standing Committee Member, the 9th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference; President, The Real Estate Developers Association of Hong Kong; Member, Court of The University of Hong Kong; Member, Council of The University of Hong Kong; Chairman, The University of Hong Kong Foundation for Educational Development and Research; Vice-President, Preparatory Committee for the Macau Special Administrative Region; Trustee, Foundation for the Co-operation and Development of Macau; as well as Council Member, University of Macau.

Asian Gambling Kingpins Join Forces

The families that control Asia's two biggest casino empires have formed their first formal partnership - after more than 40 years of rivalry.

Younger members of the Lim family, of Genting fame, and the Ho family, of Macau fame, are using a Singapore company in a small but significant deal that could be a prelude to bigger things.

According to a casino industry executive, the HK$10 million (S$2.2 million) tie-up, which involves Sesdaq-listed Cyber Village, could point to a wider alliance between the gaming groups.

And the executive isn't ruling out the possibility of them joining forces to bid against US titans in what could be the next big bet - a Singapore casino.

For now, Cyber Village will help develop a customer loyalty programme for a company that handles slot machines in the gambling enclave of Macau.

Cyber Village is linked to Justin Leong - 26-year-old grandson of Genting founder Lim Goh Tong - who is seen as being groomed for a management role in the Genting gaming empire.

The Macau slot machine company is controlled by Lawrence Ho - the eldest son of gambling king Stanley Ho, who had a casino monopoly on Macau until 2002.

The contracts covering the tie-up were awarded by Mr Lawrence Ho's Hong Kong-listed IT company Elixir and wrapped up in the presence of Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in Cyberjaya at the weekend.

The Lim and Ho families have been seen as rivals since Mr Ho rebuffed an offer from Mr Lim to jointly develop Malaysia's Genting casino in the late 1960s.

Mr Lim, who retired this year, recalled in his memoirs, published in 2000: 'I told him (Mr Ho) the purpose of my visit. He responded with a smile without committing anything. I knew what he meant. As I had not obtained the casino licence yet, how could we talk about co-operation.'

The two octogenarians clashed a few years ago when China opened the Macau casino market following the end of Mr Ho's 40-year monopoly.

Mr Lim failed to secure one of the three licences in the tender exercise. Mr Ho captured one licence while the other two were awarded to heavyweights Galaxy Casino/Las Vegas Sands and the Wynn Group.

Cyber Village has clinched a string of jobs since Mr Leong and partners emerged as major shareholders in March and launched a general offer.

These deals include one with Tan Chong & Sons Motor to develop a portal-based vehicle sales, service and order management system, and a venture to provide digital web-TV to a subsidiary of China Netcom. Cyber Village's shares have jumped 36 per cent to 26.5 cents yesterday from 19.5 cents in March.  - by Eddie Toh in Kuala Lumpur    SINGAPORE BUSINESS TIMES        8 Sept 2004

Online stock-trading platform provider iAsia Technology plans to strengthen its broking operation by spending HK$126 million to acquire three corporate finance companies partially owned by Cheung Kong (Holdings).

iAsia proposes to fund the acquisition by raising HK$102 million through placement of a rights issue and has appointed property and restaurant operator Melco International Development as the underwriter.

Both iAsia and Melco are headed by Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho and his son Lawrence Ho.

According to the companies' announcement, GEM-board listed iAsia plans to fully acquire from CEF Holdings and CEF Brokerage Holdings, three loss-making subsidiaries - CEF Brokerage, CEF Futures and CEF Capital.

Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce each hold a 50 per cent stake in CEF, which is engaged in securities brokerage and dealing business, futures and commodity trading and corporate finance advisory services.

iAsia proposes to complete the HK$126 million acquisition in cash, of which HK$102 million would be raised through a proposed issue of three shares for every two existing shares, priced at 10 HK cents each.

The total number of rights shares issued is expected to be no less than 1.02 billion shares. Subscribers will also receive two bonus shares for every three subscribed.

While iAsia proposed the placement of rights issue in a bid to avoid increasing its gearing ratio, the company may still finance internally or borrow from banks to fund the acquisition. The acquisition is still subject to approval of shareholders.

The acquisition of CFN companies is seen as a step to beefing up iAsia and Melco's position in the financial services operation in Hong Kong, and bringing iAsia a step closer to become a ``prominent player in the regional financial services industry''.

``One of the synergies of the acquisition is to allow iAsia to provide clients with a more comprehensive range of financial services covering online trading services and traditional fully fledged investment banking securities services,'' the company announcement said, adding that iAsia expected to increase revenue and development of new technology products and services after the purchase.

iAsia has proposed a name change to Value Convergence Holdings Limited after the acquisition, to reflect the change in business nature.

iAsia has had net losses of HK$84.44 million for its third quarter to June 30. The company is 17.07 per cent held by Bailey Development and Golden Mate, partially and fully owned by Stanley Ho and Lawrence Ho respectively.

Melco, which was appointed as the underwriter for the rights issue, is 49.96 per cent owned by the Ho clan. Existing businesses of Melco include property investments and the floating seafood restaurant in Aberdeen.

Shares of iAsia and Melco have been suspended from trading since September 30. Both counters will resume trading tomorrow.   -   Joyce Li    The Standard    14 October 2002 


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