Pansy Ho Inherits the Gambling Empire of Father

There has never been a more prominent patriarchy in Asian gambling than the one established by Stanley Ho. Just an hour after the godfather of Macao had passed away, a large clan of his closest family gathered outside the Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital to break the news to the world press, it was Pansy Ho who was given the responsibility of making the statement.

Studio City apartments in Macao.

Macao is awash with tall glass structures, luxury hotels and casinos. Many of these pieces of prime real-estate belong to the Ho family, including the beautiful Studio City apartment block which Melco has a 60% stake. ©falco/Pixabay

Pansy Ho – the 57-year-old eldest daughter of Stanley’s 2nd wife is the heir apparent to the gambling conglomerate. In a show of unity, the family flanked her whilst she read out the report to the world press. Pansy is a former socialite of the Hong Kong elite, western educated and a sharp businesswoman in her own right. More importantly, Pansy already holds chairman positions at some of Macao’s biggest conglomerates including MGM China Holdings Ltd, and clearly became her father’s favorite choice many years ago to lead the company forward.

Following the death of Stanley Ho – the trailblazer who successfully put Macao on the map and eclipsed the Las Vegas casino industry annual revenue by nearly six times. These are certainly big shoes to fill, and the pressure is firmly on Pansy to deliver and rejuvenate the $15bn casino empire that is facing its worst existential crisis for a generation due to a coronavirus induced revenue plunge of 90%.

Whilst Stanley was alive it would have been disrespectful for his heirs to start breaking up the empire and assigning control. But now that he is gone, we’ll ultimately see one person emerge as the leader of the Ho dynasty. Pansy has already begun consolidating her power, absorbing 20 casinos under the SJM Holdings umbrella, MGM China and the lucrative helicopter and ferry routes that link Macao and Hong Kong.

The complicated network of business interests and dependencies of the Ho empire make this a formidable task, one that would have been a significant challenge in boom times. In the midst of a revenue free-fall, the Macao casino industry is losing $3M daily, this accounts for a 97% drop compared to the same period last year. On top of this, it is uncertain when full recovery can be achieved given the persistent nature of the virus.

SJM Losing Market Share to Fierce Competitors

After spending decades at the top, SJM Holdings have become the target of a fierce pool of competitors in Macao. Casinos are becoming increasingly desperate to regain lost ground from the demand shock, and the operators that are utilizing more dynamic methods are the ones that tend to survive in such a bear market.

The complex power structure in place at SJM Holdings is making life much harder for the firm, and they are losing market share to competitors that are more agile and able to react quickly to the demands of these unprecedented trading conditions. One such example was the failure of the firm to complete its Grand Lisboa Palace project on time, pushing the completion date back into late 2020.

Internal power struggles are also beginning to weigh-in on the outside perception of SJM Holdings. Given the huge family tree descended from Stanley Ho, with at least 14 children from 4 wives, there is a considerable amount of maneuvering going on within the family. Angela Leong – Ho’s 4th wife – is seen by many as the most considerable threat to the Pansy Ho ascension, but for now, she has been restrained in her words. With Leong holding an 8% stake in SJM Holdings, this could become a future friction point.

Investors from the outside looking in will have June 9th firmly on their minds, as this will be the moment when SJM Holdings board members including Pansy Ho and Angela Leong will seek re-election, any signs of tension will surely be laid to bear at this time. One area that people aren’t confused is the determination of Pansy Ho to advance her own strategy over SJM Holdings, a task she will carry out through expert connection building and the systematic ousting of her board-level enemies.

Discussing the future problems of the SJM Holdings in the post-Stanley Ho period, Joseph Fan a professor in business at the Chinese University of Hong Kong commented,

It is of utmost importance for the new leader of the Ho group to identify new sources of competitive advantage and transform its business and managerial teams that can no longer depend on Ho’s legacy.Joseph Fan, Professor, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Another potential competitor is Lawrence Ho, chairman of the Melco Resorts is the brother of Pansy. Lawrence claims to be solely focused on building his own brand which has begun expanding its influence into the South East Asian region, and Japan. With his formidable profile and immense success in the casino business, many see him as a natural successor to the Ho enterprise.

The role that Lawrence will play in the future of Stanley Ho’s vast and complex business network is one of the great questions that investors and analysts are asking. The coming months will surely offer more clarity to the situation, and the family is expected to make clear its plans for the various businesses and assign a level of control to every branch of the Ho family tree.

A family that has been embroiled in conflict and in-fighting throughout the past decade is now looking for a strong leader to carry the reigns. It seems like now they have all recognized that for the better of the collective and indeed the individual, having someone as capable as Pansy take control would best serve the empire and benefit all of them.

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Macao skyline.

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