Once the richest man in Asia, Ho died on Tuesday in Hong Kong’s Sanatorium Hospital. He had suffered years of ill health with conditions including kidney failure, a stroke and Parkinson’s Disease.
His death was announced by mainland Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, which called him a “patriotic entrepreneur.” Ho was famous for having four wives and consorts, and local media reported that the surviving three were all present at his hospital bedside on Monday afternoon.
Ho built and maintained a gambling monopoly in the then Portuguese colony and at one stage reportedly accounted for half of the Macau government’s tax revenue. The SJM Holdings company that he controlled until 2011, owns 19 casinos including the Grand Lisboa.
Although SJM eventually lost its monopoly through the issue of licenses to five other groups – including Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson and others controlled by Ho family members – Ho’s drive to transform the casino scene in the territory rapidly made Macau a gaming hub several times larger than Las Vegas.
Ho had 17 known children, of which 16 are still alive. Among them is singer-actress-producer Josie Ho, who starred in Pang Ho-Cheung’s “Dream Home” and executive produced John Cameron Mitchell’s “How To Talk To Girls At Parties.” Among his other children are casino bosses and occasional movie investors Lawrence Ho and Pansy Ho.
Josie Ho said via her agent that she will remain strong in face of her father’s passing. “I appreciate everyone’s concern. Please give my family space and time to handle the matter. Forgive me that I cannot reveal more,” she said in a statement.
Ho, full name Ho Hung-sun, was born into the rogue branch of Hong Kong’s famed Ho Tung clan. He made an early fortune smuggling luxury goods across the border between China and Macau during WWII and invested his profits in kerosene and construction businesses, before bidding for the gambling monopoly that was tendered by the Macanese government.
Ho’s great-grandfather, Charles Bosman (aka Ho Sze Man) was a successful Dutch-Jewish entrepreneur in mid-19th century Hong Kong, and his cousins included Bruce Lee.
“Wielding an iron fist in a velvet glove, guided by superhuman quantities of brains, guts and charm, Ho created the modern Macau that China inherited in December 1999,” said casino trade publication Inside Asian Gaming. “Ho was larger than life, a passionate ballroom dancer, proud owner of Hong Kong 2009 Horse of the Year Viva Pataca and an extraordinarily successful businessman.”
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam said she was “saddened” by his death. She framed most of her eulogy in staunchly nationalistic tones. “Dr Ho loved the country and started to invest in the Mainland as early as the 1970s to support its reform and opening-up, and participate in its development. He also served as a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, contributing further to the advancement of the country,” said Lam in a statement.