Stanley Ho, Remembering The Gambling King Who Never Bet

Stanley Ho, Remembering The Gambling King Who Never Bet
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Let’s be honest it’s difficult, when you are writing for an online gambling publication, to pen an obituary about a person who once said he had “never gambled a cent in his life at cards, slot machines or roulette”.

Nevertheless Stanley Ho was known as the ‘King of Gambling’ and his 98 years on planet earth were both remarkable and startlingly rewarding.

Ho’s longevity and lack of ‘gamble’ brings back memories of the late Clement Freud who, way back in 1964 wrote in his Observer column: “If you resolve to give up smoking, drinking and loving, you don't actually live longer; it just seems longer.” Freud died in 2009 aged 84, so who knows if he was right or not.

A plethora of sinisterly similar obituaries hit the online sites of numerous traditional broadsheet newspapers within minutes of Stanley Ho’s passing being announced something which adds further difficulty in explaining, from newsworthy viewpoint, why the non-gambling ‘King of Gambling’ was such a renowned figure in the world of gambling.

These epitaphic tributes all lay out a fact pattern which, to abbreviate reads like this: The ninth of 13 children, Ho was born into a life of wealth and privilege but the great depression bankrupted his father and left his family in poverty. Two of his brothers committed suicide and in a 2004 interview Ho explained these experiences were the kick-start he needed to stand on his own two feet and improve his poor school grades. Ho later earned a scholarship to Hong Kong University but was forced to abandon his studies and flee to Macau after Japan invaded the British colony on Christmas day 1941.

In Macau Ho found his entrepreneurial feet and he made a small fortune smuggling luxury goods across the Chinese border from Macau during the early years of the war. By 1943 he had set up a kerosene company and he later established a construction company which prospered during Hong Kong’s post-war construction boom.

Buying The Whole Game

With money and a reputation Ho successfully bid for Macau’s gambling monopoly rights in 1962 and enjoyed four subsequent decades of uninterrupted domination which ultimately saw him preside over the world’s highest-grossing casino, the Casino Lisboa, and 20 other casino properties in the former Portuguese colony. Only in 2002, when the Macau casino was opened for competition, did Ho lose his monopoly but his casino businesses remained strong and he had diversified opening casinos in Portugal and in the Philippines.

Married four times and fathering 17 children, Ho was clearly a busy man. His companies operated the ferries and hydrofoils shipping gamblers into the territory, and he also had a stake in Macau’s international airport. In 1989 Ho became chairman and chief executive of the Macau Jockey Club and sticking with a sporting theme he also launched Asia’s first football and basketball lottery, called SLOT.

The man himself, who only retired in 2018 aged 96, amassed a fortune during his lifetime estimated to be worth $7 billion US dollars making him one of Asia's richest men. He had sat amongst world’s top-100 wealthiest people for over two decades.

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Awards And Honours

In 1998 Ho became the first living Macanese resident to have a local street named after him. Ten years later the billionaire tycoon had a second street in his name when the Portugal’s Cascais Municipality, renamed the avenue leading to Casino Estoril after Ho. That was another first and reward for taking a majority interest in the venue, Europe’s biggest casino, in 1987.

A philanthropist, who was on the board of a wide number of local hospital and social charities, Ho was awarded an OBE for services to the community in Hong Kong in 1990 and he received more honours – the Gold Bauhinia Star from the Chief Executive of Hong Kong – in 2003 for his ‘outstanding contribution to the community, in promoting education, sports and other community services for youth’.

In November 2010 Ho was awarded the Grand Bauhinia Medal the highest under the Hong Kong honours and awards system and underlining his popularity China’s state media has mourned his death by describing Stanley Ho as “a patriotic entrepreneur”. It is quite amazing that someone at the helm of an empire built on something so regularly thought upon as seedy, gambling, was so well received during his lifetime.

Sadly the life story of this casino magnate lacks the sparkle of other billionaires who were associated with gambling. There is no Kerry Packeresque takes – like his classic riposte to a Texan high-roller in Vegas who boasted he was worth $100 million. “I’ll toss you for it,” was his alleged reply.

The Controversies

But that’s not to say Stanley Ho did not court controversy and he made regular appearances in the media. Parts of his family – a reminder that’s 17 children and four wives have – have been in the news aplenty during the past decade as they have fought bitterly for control of Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau, which controls Ho’s company SJM Holdings.

Allegations of ties to Chinese organized crime have also dogged Ho for years and the Canadian Government openly declared he had a link to the Kung Lok Triad (the Chinese mafia) and was connected to “several illegal activities” between 1999 and 2002. Ho's alleged ties to Chinese organized crime were also reported by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. They declared he was not a suitable person under the state’s regulations to own, run or operate a casino in 2010.

And so that’s Stanley Ho, the ‘King of Gambling’, who clearly operated at a different level than you and I starting with his disinterest in placing a bet.

You can read more about his life here: Stanley Ho, 1921 – 2020

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