Pansy Ho steps into the spotlight as de facto head and uniter of the sprawling clan after the passing of the King of Gambling

01-Jun-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

When Stanley Ho Hung-sun, the patriarch of one of Asia’s wealthiest families and the undisputed gambling king of Macau, suffered a stroke in late 2009, it was his middle child who stepped up to face the media’s intense scrutiny of her father’s health.

More than a decade later this week, it was Pansy Ho Chiu-king again who faced the cameras on behalf of the extended family of three widows and 16 children to announce the passing, at age 98, of the man who had presided over the world’s casino hub for more than half a century.

Flanked by her mother Lucina Laam and younger brother Lawrence Ho on her left, elder sister Angela Ho the eldest surviving child from Ho’s first wife and the late patriarch’s youngest widow Angela Leong On-kei on her right, Pansy Ho delivered a brief statement.

“Although we know the day will come, it does not ease our sorrow,” Ho said at the Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital. “Dad will stay in people’s hearts forever and our family will continue to [contribute] to society.”

The brief statement was a signal that the businesswoman, 16th on Forbes’ list of Hong Kong’s 50 richest people last year, is stepping into the role as de facto spokesperson of the sprawling clan. A former socialite and actress who turned to business only in her 30s, Ho now controls two of the six casino licences in Macau, which overtook Las Vegas as the world’s gambling capital a decade ago. Her younger brother Lawrence holds one of the six licenses through Melco Resorts & Entertainment.

“She is a very capable person. Now with Stanley gone, they can look at how to strengthen the company going forward,” said Allan Zeman, a non-executive director of Wynn Resorts, one of the rivals of the Ho family’s casinos.

The spotlight is also on Pansy, who turns 58 in August, to unite the interests of a clan whose infighting, and legal wrangles had been the fodder for Hong Kong’s gossip press for decades. The family’s combined fortunes are estimated at $15 billion, spanning more than half of Macau’s casinos, real estate, hotels and shipping. She declined to comment for this article.

Born in 1962, Pansy is the eldest child of Ho’s second wife, and the fifth out of 16 children in the extended clan. Younger than Angela and Deborah from Ho’s first marriage to Clementina Leitao, Pansy was described by the late magnate as the child who is most like him in personality. Father and daughter would go hunting for partridges and wild ducks, Pansy said in a 2009 interview with South China Morning Post.

“I was the brave one who would go with him, and we would climb mountains and trek through the wilderness for hours together,” she said at the time.

Pansy studied at a girls’ boarding school in California and graduated in marketing and business from a Jesuit university in Santa Clara. As a teenager, she briefly appeared in a TVB miniseries called Break Through in 1981.

In the 1990s, Pansy turned to business, starting first at the family’s shipping arm Shun Tak Holdings, which operated the daily hydrofoil and later helicopter commute between Hong Kong and Macau. In 2017, as the elder Ho withdrew from active business following his 2009 stroke, Pansy was named chair of Shun Tak, now capitalised at HK$8.5 billion.

But the source of Pansy’s wealth and power would be her control of six of the 10 board seats on the Ho clan’s privately held family holding company Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM), the majority owner of Macau casino licensee SJM Holdings Limited.

Pansy owns 0.12 per cent of STDM directly, and has an alliance since January 2019 with the Henry Fok Foundation to control 53 per cent of the holding company, placing majority control of the clan’s crown jewel in the family of Ho’s second wife Laam.

Ina Chan, the third of the late tycoon’s widows, owns 15.8 per cent of STDM, while the youngest widow Leong owns 6.86 per cent and shares the position of co-chair of SJM with a scion of the Fok family.

“They are very clever to consolidate with the Fok family, it will be difficult for someone to challenge them,” Zeman said.

Six of the 10 seats on STDM’s board were occupied by Pansy’s associates, according to a March 2019 reshuffle, with Chan and Leong holding a seat each, while the remaining two seats were occupied by Patrick Tsang who represents the family of the late Cheng Yu-tung, and SJM’s Executive director David Shum.

“There are various groups and individuals in that company that have interests in various parts of the business,” said Vitaly Umansky, global gaming analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, adding that the alliance will come under challenge, with other families on the board. “Unless you start really cleaning house and making significant changes to the business, I’m not sure what can change for the better.”

SJM and Shun Tak declined to comment. SJM, with 1,700 gambling tables and 2,400 slot machines across 20 casinos last year, is scheduled to open its new flagship resort the Grand Lisboa Palace on the Cotai Strip in Macau at the end of this year. The company’s chair since June 2018 is Pansy’s younger sister Daisy Ho Chiu-fung, who declined to comment.

The move was “an indicator that Daisy is there to keep the seat for Pansy,” said Ben Lee, Macau-based managing partner at gaming consultancy IGamiX.

With her wealth estimated at $4.8 billion, Pansy is one of Hong Kong’s richest women. She paid HK$900 million for a mansion on the Peak in 2018, setting Asia’s second-highest price record for residential property.

Pansy further owns 22.5 per cent of MGM China Holdings, one of the six casino licensees in Macau and a venture with MGM Resorts International of Las Vegas, and sits on the board as co-chair along with MGM Resort’s President William Hornbuckle. The territory’s gambling law stipulates that anybody with more than 5 per cent share stake in one concession is not allowed to own more than 5 per cent of another operator.

“We expect Pansy to jump back to SJM” after helping MGM China to secure its new concession before the license expires in 2022, said Lee, adding that the split holdings under Shun Tak and SJM are likely to be consolidated under Pansy. “It is good for the company, that is for sure,” Lee said as SJM has been losing market share over the years.

SJM’s shares rose 7.2 per cent amid a rising market on Tuesday when the casino billionaire’s death was announced, its biggest close in two months. Shun Tak’s shares jumped by 21.9 per cent, their biggest percentage gain since 2008.

Still, Macau’s casinos are sitting mostly empty, reporting operating losses of as up to $1 million every day, as the coronavirus pandemic has deterred travelling and large public gatherings. The city, with a population of less than 1 million residents, has reported 45 confirmed cases with zero deaths making it one of the least affected places under the pandemic.

But quarantines and travel bans kept high rollers and Chinese gamblers the lifeblood of Macau’s gambling halls away, causing April’s revenue to plummet 97 per cent from a year ago to record the territory’s worst month on record.

“It depends on when the border will be opened. The good thing is every operator has enough working capital to last over one year, some have two years. Operators can survive,” said Zeman, adding that he is hoping for a solution for the virus, “otherwise, the whole world will be dead.”

For now, all eyes are now on the re-election of four executive directors at SJM’s upcoming annual general meeting on June 9.

“We see limited possibility of major changes in control/concession to happen in the near term, simply because we believe no concessionaire would want to attract unnecessary attention/headlines ahead of concession renewal in June 2022,” JPMorgan Chase’s analyst DS Kim wrote in a report on Tuesday.


Category: Regional

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