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Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho dies at 98

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Macau tycoon Stanley Ho with fourth wife Angela Leong On Kei and son Mario Ho.

Hong Kong

MACAU gambling king Stanley Ho, who built a business empire from scratch in the former Portuguese colony and became one of Asia's richest men, died peacefully at the age of 98, his family confirmed on Tuesday.

The flamboyant tycoon, who loved to dance and advised his nearest and dearest to shun gambling, headed one of the world's most lucrative gaming businesses through his flagship firm, SJM Holdings, valued at about US$6 billion.

Mr Ho oversaw the transformation of once-sleepy Macau into the world's biggest casino centre, outpacing the United States' Las Vegas strip, and held a monopoly until 2002 when the enclave licensed five other operators to run casinos.

"In Hong Kong, Dr Ho had been someone who carried a lot of weight, was highly respected and cherished Hong Kong . . . (We) hope to follow our father's footsteps and carry on the responsibility of giving back to the society," his daughter Pansy told media.

Shares of companies in the family's empire surged on expectations of potential ownership changes involving Ho's family members.

SJM rose as much as 8.5 per cent, passenger transport firm Shun Tak Holdings jumped 17.6 per cent and casino operator Melco International Development climbed 4.9 per cent, outpacing a 2 per cent gain for the benchmark index.

"The market is expecting . . . a scramble for inheritance. Under these circumstances, there might be changes in company ownership, with some shareholders increasing their stakes," said Kenny Ng, a Hong Kong-based analyst at brokerage Everbright Sun Hung Kai.

Last year, Pansy struck a strategic alliance with four shareholders of Stanley Ho's privately owned Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau, or STDM, the holding company for SJM. The deal increased Pansy's control over SJM and put the alliance's influence at SJM ahead of Angela Leong, the casino operator's co-chairman and fourth wife of Mr Ho.

"Investors are keen on SJM in anticipation that it will become more aggressive in its business approach on the back of stronger control of the company and closer ties among its major shareholders," said Steven Leung, a sales director at UOB Kay Hian.

Born in Hong Kong, Mr Ho had four wives and 17 known children. He was forced to restructure his business after a legal battle erupted within the family in 2012 over the family fortune - which Forbes pegged at US$2 billion two years earlier.

The holding company STDM has stakes in everything from luxury hotels to helicopters and horse racing. Analysts do not expect Mr Ho's death to have an impact on day-to-day operations.

SJM is Macau's oldest gambling company. Mr Ho spearheaded what is known in Macau as the junket VIP system, whereby middlemen act on behalf of casinos by extending credit to gamblers and taking responsibility for collecting debts. Some of Mr Ho's children have become successful gaming operators in their own right.

Daughter Pansy is the co-chairperson of MGM Resorts International's Macau unit, MGM China Holdings, while son Lawrence runs Melco Resorts & Entertainment.

Mr Ho died at the Hong Kong Sanatorium Hospital. REUTERS

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