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Howard Stutz

Stanley Ho drama heats up in Macau

14 February 2011

MACAU -- Today's episode of the "Hos and the Restless" finds sisters Daisy and Pansy defending themselves in a Hong Kong courtroom after being sued by their ailing 89-year-old billionaire father, Stanley, for trying to swipe the family business.

Meanwhile, three of Stanley's four wives and the rest of his 17 children are tussling over their share of his estimated $3 billion in assets.

The fight involves ownership of Stanley Ho's 31.7 percent stake in SJM, operators of a construction business, hotels, an airline and a large slice of the lucrative Macau casino market.

Stanley Ho reportedly signed over his interests to his family on Jan. 25. A day later, his lawyer cried foul.

The Asian media is pursuing the sordid affair as zealously as the American press chases stories about troubled starlet Lindsay Lohan.

The ongoing saga could have implications in Macau, which produced $23.4 billion in gaming revenues in 2010.

Casinos owned by SJM include the lotus flower-shaped Grand Lisboa and the aging Hotel Lisboa. SJM collects a market-leading 31 percent of Macau's monthly gaming revenues.

Since Jan. 26, SJM's share price has declined 8 percent on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, reducing the company's market capitalization by $1 billion. That same day family members wheeled an infirm Stanley Ho out of his bedroom to read a statement from cue cards. His call for "family unity" was videotaped and has gone viral on YouTube.

Macau is the center of the soap opera.

In January, Macau casinos produced $2.32 billion in gaming revenues. Chinese New Year has spurred a 9 percent visitation growth this month, which could mean a February revenue haul exceeding $2 billion.

Quietly, executives from Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd. have become avid watchers of the Ho family feud. The companies operate competing casinos in Macau and wouldn't mind taking market share from SJM.

Pansy Ho is considered one of Hong Kong's leading businesswomen. She operates one of her father's companies. She is also MGM Resorts International's 50 percent partner in the MGM Grand Macau.

New Jersey gaming regulators questioned her suitability last year. They claim her father, who is allegedly tied to Chinese organized crime triads, influences her decisions. The ruling forced MGM Resorts to divest from Atlantic City.

But this raises a question. If Pansy Ho was not independent of her father and he controls her moves, then why does he have to sue her to get his holdings back?