Editorial | Uncle Stanley

Paulo Coutinho

Stanley Ho has been a household name in Macau and East Asia for seven decades. His trade: gambling, although, as the legend goes, he never gambled himself and would always advise those around him not to gamble. I heard that directly from him after one press conference in the 80s.
As any other gambling magnate, he knew the rule of thumb in games of fortune and hazard: the house always wins.
Stanley was the house, holding a gambling monopoly in Macau for over four decades, most of that time through his business conglomerate STDM. And in that capacity, he played his odds well.
He courted the Portuguese governors, one after the other, trading favors beneficial to both parties in which he would always hold the upper hand. What is good for STDM is good for Macau, so the legend was born.
And during the entire remaining Portuguese administration from the 70s onwards that was pretty much the case.
Ho was influential in several business initiatives involving Portuguese and Chinese interests, mostly his own, of which probably the most emblematic is the closure of the Baia da Praia Grande or Nam Van – an ambitious urban engineering project that would transform the bay for good.
When I arrived in Macau in the mid-1980s, the Praia Grande bay was a mesmerizing sight of historical resonance. However, its waters were stagnant, dark and muddy, and in the dry season it would exhale a putrid smell. It was infested with a million rats and dirt.
In the nineties, a project financed by both Stanley Ho and the public coffers, commissioned late architect Manuel Vicente to redesign the bay and, in conjunction with experienced Portuguese engineers, find a solution with dams and floodgates to pump water into two artificial lakes to restore and upgrade the area giving the city a refreshed and salubrious seaside front. It worked.
In the late 80s, Stanley Ho would have a stake or say in all the projects that would involve infrastructure, transport and land. Apart from his own fleet of ferryboats to serve the Macau-Hong Kong route, Ho would become involved in all the so-called major infrastructure projects: the ferry terminal, the airport, the sea port, the air flag-carrier, you name it.
At the same time, his Casino Lisboa (now dubbed Old Lisboa) and the satellite-casino network was ripping billions mostly from Hong Kong and Asian patrons, at a time of great prosperity in the region, when the Asian Tigers, Hong Kong included, were thriving.
With a Midas touch, he bought the decaying Trotting Club from Yip Hon and transformed it into a lucrative Jockey Club in a matter of years that would turn a profit year-after-year, until its demise over the past ten years when he was no longer in control.
By the turn of the century, old Stanley was well prepared for what came next when Edmund Ho, the first Chief Executive, put an end to the gaming monopoly and promoted an international tender for gaming concessions.
After the handover, Stanley Ho asked Edmund Ho (not related) to give him a “moratorium” of three years so he could reorganize his company to bid in the tender. If there was a moratorium, we may never know, the matter of fact is that the first casino outside of Uncle Stanley’s orbit opened more than three years later, the Sands Macao. The rest is history.
A flamboyant and complex character, famous for his bold statements, Ho once proposed an alternative destiny for his homelands of Hong Kong and Macau: that they should be governed autonomously under the auspices of the United Nations. Over the years, he dropped the idea and became more and more intimate with Beijing circles and involved in the cause of reunification.

Categories Editorial Macau