MACAU (Reuters) - Sure, being the daughter of Macau’s casino king has had its perks. But Pansy Ho — gaming magnate, property tycoon, budding airline mogul and up-and-coming heir apparent to ageing father Stanley Ho’s multi-billion-dollar gaming empire — has perhaps had more to prove as a result of that kinship.
“It’s true, if it weren’t for who I am — Dr. Ho’s daughter — it would probably not have been (as) easy for me,” she said of her early days running a public relations firm in the 1980s.
“Ultimately, there wasn’t really all that much help, other than the fact that we would obviously be able to be recognized a little bit easier.”
Last month, Pansy Ho, 45, shot into the spotlight after the $1.25 billion MGM Grand, which she runs with MGM Mirage Inc, opened in Macau on the heels of Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands and Steve Wynn’s Wynn Resorts.
The arrival of the newest mega-casino in the former Portuguese enclave and Chinese gambling haven, which last year overtook Las Vegas in gaming revenue, was the culmination of a quiet but successful career — often in her father’s shadow.
Deemed one of Asia’s most powerful businesswomen, Ho is a director of her father’s Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau, whose flagship gaming arm, Sociedade de Jogos de Macau Holdings (SJM), has had to put off a US$1 billion initial public offer because of this year’s stock market turmoil.
She runs Shun Tak Holdings, a conglomerate her father started that owns hotels and property from Macau to Thailand and operates transport businesses from ferries to a budget airline that will take off this year.
“I always keep a clear distinction as to what my roles are and where my responsibilities are,” the younger Ho said over tea in an upscale Chinese restaurant at the lavish MGM.
Lately, the executive who earned a degree in marketing and business from the University of Santa Clara has focused increasingly on her role as managing director of MGM Grand Paradise, just down the road from her father’s iconic Lisboa.
Last year, Pansy Ho jumped six spots to No. 36 on Fortune’s global list of the 50 most influential women in business. The high-profile MGM venture may propel her further up that ladder.
But that new casino symbolizes her father’s woes.
Stanley Ho’s once-indomitable empire shrank after his gaming monopoly ended in 2002, hemmed in by an influx of Vegas players, Hong Kong investors — and now global ventures helmed by his scions.
Lawrence Ho — Pansy’s brother, and another of the octogenarian Ho’s supposed favorites among his 17 children — teamed up with Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd to set up the Crown.
Pansy Ho’s own MGM Grand Paradise is plotting a $200 million expansion in a $10 billion market growing at double digits.
Analysts warn of potential hiccups.
Stephen Vickers of International Risk brings up Macau’s widening rich-poor income rift and mounting social ills, organized crime and corruption, and the eventual passing of the eldest Ho and the ripples among the high-roller promoters — the lifeblood of the industry — that he now controls, but which are reported to have triad links.
“The bottom line, in the end, is we believe Macau will succeed,” Vickers said, declining to comment on the Ho family.
“But there are some very key challenges.”
The Ho family has perhaps the biggest collective stake of all in Macau’s success. Pansy Ho remains close to her father — he joined her on stage at the opening of the MGM Grand — but the younger Ho seemed to want to shake the perception she’s “daddy’s girl”, finding that sometimes tough.
When she applied for approval from Nevada and Mississippi for the MGM venture, regulators were said to have paid extra scrutiny to who she was, the daughter of a self-made billionaire who local media say is linked to organized crime — a charge never confirmed. New Jersey is still investigating.
Whatever the case, Pansy Ho remains one of the most accomplished members of the Ho clan, which also encompasses Hong Kong film starlet Josie Ho. At the MGM’s gala opening, the notoriously hard-to-please man appeared proud of his daughter — and that’s something, she said.
“It’s actually in a way unfair that he has to be brought into the picture in all this,” she said in a group interview. “If you can satisfy, or at least gain his trust, I think this is really a very big feat.”
(Additional reporting by James Pomfret)
Editing by Edwin Chan and Ian Geoghegan