Stanley Ho – The King of Gambling

How would you like to have a government issued monopoly over all gambling-related activities in your country? And what if on top of that, your country was one of the leading gambling destinations in the world? It may sound like a sweet dream, but for Stanley Ho that was the reality for over 40 years, a reality that was made possible after many struggles and much hard work. What is more, Ho definitely knew how to make the best of his situation.

Stanley Ho (born November 25th, 1921) tied for 104th place on Forbes Magazine’s list of ‘world richest people’ in 2007, with an estimated wealth of over $7 billion US. Though he came from an extremely wealthy family, Ho was forced to build his empire from scratch. His father lost all his fortune after a stock market crash, and declared bankruptcy when Stanley was only 13 years old. Shortly after, Stanley’s two older brothers commuted suicide, and his father abandoned the family. Stanly was left with his two older sisters and his mother, and he promised them that he will “become a successful man… and earn a lot of money in ten years”.

Though he was considered a poor student prior to the bankruptcy incident, Ho quickly realized that success in school can greatly benefit his social status. After much hard work he improved his academic results and earned a scholarship to the University of Hong Kong, where he kept working hard. Ho soon became fluent in Japanese, English and Portuguese, and gained much knowledge in business.

In 1941 Ho moved from Hong Kong to Macao, and started work in a trading company. He quickly won the trust of his employers due to his personality, devotion and perfect command of four languages. He became a partner at the early age of 22, and was put in charge of a major trade that was to take place at sea. When his ship was attacked by thieves, and all his partners shot, Ho had a chance to prove great courage and loyalty. He managed to get hold of a gun and regain control of the ship. He sailed back to land and saved his company $300,000 US, the equivalent of several millions today. For this act of bravery as well as other outstanding performances, he received a bonus of $1 million.

Using his superb business instincts, Ho invested the bonus money in Hong Kong’s rapidly-growing construction industry. His various construction-related companies did extremely well, and Ho decided once more to invest his profits. His next move would be studied for years in business schools all around the world, and would also earn Ho his nickname – ‘the king of gambling’.

Ho declared partnership with Hong Kong tycoon Henry Fok, renowned Macau gambler Yip Hon and his brother-in-law Teddy Yip, and together the group bid over the public tender for Macao’s gaming monopoly. Their tactic was to put in a high bid, and to promise to promote tourism to Macao, as well as to develop infrastructure. Their strategy proved to be a winning one, when in 1962 the government of Macao issued an exclusive gambling license to Stanley Ho and his company – ‘Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau’.

Ho has been working hard ever since, setting up many different companies and investing in almost anything under the sun, including tourism, entertainment, shipping, air transport and banking. He owns many properties in Hong Kong and Macau, and income from his various businesses constitutes about one-third of the gross domestic annual product of Macao. More importantly, his companies are collectively the largest corporate employer in Macao.

After Portugal returned Macao to China in 1999 it was obvious that things were soon going to change. Ho’s 40-year-old gambling monopoly was terminated in 2002, and many of the biggest casino developers from Las Vegas soon started their bidding wars over gambling licenses in Macao. Still, the American newcomers will have to work extremely hard to beat Stanley Ho, ‘the king of gambling’, at his own game.