ny significant decline in Mr Ho’s health, analysts said, could provoke an epic power struggle as a cast of children, wives and big stakeholders jostle for control of the polygamous patriarch’s 30 % share of Macau’s us$ 14 billion gaming revenues.
Some believe that a visible decline in the powers of Mr Ho — a controversial though unifying figure in Macau after 40 years’ domination of its biggest industry — could prompt a shift in the region’s relations with Beijing and destabilise the industry.
Any instability, one casino executive said, would come at a difficult time. Macau, the world’s biggest gaming market, is battling against the economic downturn, tougher regulation by China and potential competition from casinos elsewhere in Asia.
Mr Ho’s admission to hospital last week has given urgency to questions that have long hung over his empire. Larry So, a veteran Macau-watcher, predicted conflict among four women, each legitimately described as Mr Ho’s “wife”. The tycoon is silent on succession - his office has always said that “Mr Ho has no plans to retire” from running Sociedade de Jogos de Macau (SJM), the hotel and casino empire that he once ran as a state monopoly.
Two of his seventeen children, Lawrence and Pansy, who separately have become partners of foreign casino operators after the market was opened in 2002, are thought to be strong contenders to take over the Hong Kong-listed SJM Holdings. Other prime contenders are Angela Leong, Mr Ho’s fourth wife, and Ambrose So, chief executive of SJM.
Another complication is the ownership of Sociedade de Turismo et Diversoes de Macau (STDM), which controls SJM Holdings. STDM’s ownership is divided between the estate of Mr Ho’s late business partner, Henry Fok, and Cheng Yu-tung, the billionaire property tycoon.