The Greatest Showman: The Life And Times Of Stanley Ho
The king of Macau. The godfather of gambling. Stanley Ho Hung-sun was known by many names during his nearly six-decade long career. But for the extended family the tycoon left behind when he died in May, even those grandiose epithets only scratch the surface of who he really was. “My father is the king of friendship,” his daughter Pansy Ho said in a 2015 interview with Tatler. “His charisma, sincerity and generosity have won him many lifelong and loyal friends who are always there for him.”
Born in 1921, Ho was Eurasian of Dutch descent, born and raised in Hong Kong when it was still under British rule. He was the nephew of Robert Hotung, one of the city’s first tycoons, but when Ho’s father went bankrupt during the Great Depression, he was forced to relocate to Macau with just HK$10 to his name. He went on to forge his first fortune in the city at the age of just 24, smuggling goods between Macau and China.
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A sharp wit, hustler’s instinct, eye for a deal and a knack for showmanship were traits Ho perfected early on, and which came in handy later, helping him secure a monopoly gaming license for Macau in 1961—a monopoly he held for more than four decades. In 1970, the flamboyant kingpin opened his flagship property in Macau, the Casino Lisboa.
Expanding the scope of his business interests, Ho founded shipping, property and hospitality conglomerate Shun Tak Holdings in 1972, which now operates the Hong Kong-Macau Turbojet ferry fleet. And as high rollers flooded the blackjack and roulette tables of his casinos, his empire began to prosper. After Tatler launched in Hong Kong in 1977, the swish mogul became a regular fixture in the magazine’s society pages, being photographed at the Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery exhibition at The Peninsula Marco Polo suite in 1980, the Hong Kong Ballet in 1989, Bob and Sushi Harilela’s 50th wedding anniversary party in 1990 and the Tatler Soirée in 2006, among many other occasions.
Through his flagship firm SJM Holdings, the billionaire eventually owned and operated 20 casinos in Macau, some years contributing more than 70 per cent of the city’s tax revenue and consistently employing a significant portion of Macau’s workforce, a feat that led to an entire avenue in the city being named after him. An awardee of both the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and Great Cross of the Order of Prince Henrique—an order of knighthood in Portugal—he single handedly transformed the territory of Macau and made it the world’s most lucrative gaming destination, edging out Las Vegas.
But Ho himself stayed far away from the casino floors. “I don’t gamble at all. I don’t have the patience,” he told The Associated Press in a rare interview in 2001, admitting he preferred to channel his energy towards one of his hobbies: dancing. Over the years he mastered the chacha, waltz, tango, ballroom and swing, and was a major supporter of Hong Kong’s dance scene.
“I feel a little guilty,” he told Tatler in 2002, speaking about the extent of his wealth. “I therefore give a lot to charity to have a balance, to give something back.” Ho donated large sums to institutions such as the University of Hong Kong and Po Leung Kuk, a Hong Kong organisation that supports orphaned children. In 2007, he famously paid US$330,000 in a charity phone auction for 1.5 kilograms of white Italian truffle to benefit the organisations Caritas Macau, Britain’s Consortium for Street Children and Telethon in Italy.
In his final decade he split his financial assets between his three surviving wives of four and 15 surviving children of 17, with Pansy, Ho’s eldest daughter with Lucina Lam, replacing her father as chairman of Shun Tak Holdings and Daisy, Pansy’s younger sister, taking the reins of SJM. Ho leaves behind a legacy that will not soon be forgotten. Whether cruising in Cotai, hitting the slots, or dining in style at the Grand Lisboa, Macau’s citizens and visitors will hear his name echo in the air—like the ringing of a jackpot bell—for generations to come.
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