Stanley Ho, Macao gambling tycoon and one of Hong Kong’s first billionaires, has died at the age of 98, his family said on Tuesday.
The businessman, who came to be known as the “godfather of gambling,” passed away in his sleep on Tuesday, Pansy Ho, one of his daughters, told reporters outside a hospital in Hong Kong.
Stanley Ho was born in Hong Kong in 1921, and made his fortune transforming the neighboring city of Macao into a gambling hub that later was dubbed the “Las Vegas of Asia.” The former Portuguese colony is the only place in China where casino gambling is permitted.
“We will all miss him,” and respect “his legendary accomplishments and everything he has done in life for Hong Kong … and Macao, and all his charitable donations,” his daughter said.
For four decades, Ho held the only gaming concession in Macao, and oversaw the city’s rise to become one of the world’s biggest hotspots for gamblers. He led the Sociedade de Jogos de Macau, a casino and hotel operator known best for its Grand Lisboa property in Macao.
He also was honorary chairman of Shun Tak Holdings, a conglomerate in Hong Kong whose businesses span transportation, real estate and investments. That company is now run by his daughter, Pansy, who is also a board member and part owner of MGM (MCHVY) China.
The casino magnate’s monopoly ended in 2002, when Macao opened up the industry to foreign players and allowed US giants such as Wynn (WYNMF) and Sands (LVS) to enter the market. Around the same time, China also eased travel restrictions, making it easier for tourists to visit the city.
Throughout his life, Ho developed close ties with Beijing and served as a member of China’s Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top advisory body.
Ho had battled health problems for some time. In 2009, he suffered a fall and underwent brain surgery, forcing him to take a step back from running his businesses. A bitter public family feud over his wealth followed.
Ho was famously polygamous, fathering seventeen children with four women. His net worth was estimated last year at $14.9 billion, according to Bloomberg.
After two years of infighting, Ho ended up giving up nearly his entire stake in his gambling empire and dividing the wealth among his family.
Despite his field of work, Ho always said he never indulged himself and fought to keep his image clean. He was known as a flamboyant man, who loved ballroom dancing.
“I know nothing of gambling. I still don’t gamble,” he once said. “I got [into] this franchise because it was a challenge for me.”