By Associated Press
HONG KONG (AP) — Casino tycoon Stanley Ho, whose business empire dominated the Portuguese gambling enclave of Macao for decades, has died in Hong Kong at age 98.
Considered the father of modern gambling in China, Ho’s long and eventful life tracked the ebb and flow of southern China’s fortunes. After a swashbuckling start as a kerosene trader, he ended up as Macau’s richest person, a lavish spender and debonair ballroom dancer.
A family statement said he died peacefully in his sleep, but did not give a cause of death.
Tall, handsome and of mixed Chinese and European heritage, Ho fathered 17 children with four women, an extended family that engaged in high-profile squabbles over his legacy during his later years.
Ho had stakes in businesses running everything from the ferries and helicopters connecting Hong Kong and Macao to department stores, hotels, Macao’s airport and its horse-racing tracks.
But he said he avoided the gambling floor.
“I don’t gamble at all. I don’t have the patience,” Ho told The Associated Press in a rare interview in 2001. “Don’t expect to make money in gambling. It’s a house game. It’s for the house.”
Ho was born on Nov. 25, 1921, into the Hotung family, one of Hong Kong’s wealthiest and most powerful. When he was 13, his father abandoned the family after being wiped out by a stock market crash during the Great Depression.
Ho’s studies at Hong Kong University were interrupted by World War II. Fluent in English and Chinese, he was working as a telephone operator for British forces when the colony fell to Japan. He boarded a boat for neutral Macao, joining refugees from mainland China in the dying fishing port.
“I had to throw away my uniform and run to Macao as a refugee,” Ho said in the 2001 interview.
During the war, Ho said he ran nighttime smuggling and trading trips up the Pearl River Delta, on one occasion surviving a pirate attack.
Eventually, he secured a four-decade monopoly on casinos in Macao, using that home advantage to build an empire that still dominated the industry for years after the local gaming market opened to foreign companies in 2002.
“Macao treated me so well. I went there with 10 dollars in my pocket and became a millionaire before the age of 20,” Ho said.
In 1948, Ho married Clementina Leitao, daughter of a prominent lawyer in Macao with ties to Portugal and to Macao high society, connections that may have helped him win the casino monopoly in 1962. About the same time, Ho married Lucina Laam under a Qing dynasty code allowing men to take multiple wives that Hong Kong outlawed in 1971.
Ho fathered children with two other women, Ina Chan and Angela Leong, whom he also referred to as his “wives.” Ho reportedly met Chan, a nurse, when she was hired to care for Leitao, who died in 2004.