In the early 1990s, whenever I asked gaming operators what their dream Asian locale was for new casino development, the answer more often than not was Japan. Today, we are finally on the cusp of land-based casinos becoming reality in Japan, but the fruition of this long-sought vision comes with the admission that this marketplace will likely pale in comparison to the commercial casino hub that is Macau.

The man most responsible for lighting the spark that would eventually lead to a casino explosion in Macau—making the small enclave the largest single gaming market in the world—was Dr. Stanley Ho, who passed away last month at the age of 98. Ho was the first to realize that Macau was in the perfect position to prosper from casinos, thanks in large part to its nearness to Hong Kong and mainland China, places with large populations and little or no exposure to casino wagering. In the 1960s, Ho secured an exclusive casino license from then Macau-owner Portugal and formed Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau, which eventually established and operated 20 casinos and related businesses, employed a quarter of the labor force in Macau, and accounted for over 75 percent of the enclave’s tax revenues, according to the New York Times. This license held sway over the Macau casino market until 1999, when Portugal turned Macau over to mainland China, which in 2002 ended Ho’s monopoly, eventually clearing the way for operators such as Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts to spearhead a second wave of casino expansion in Macau. Even with the increased competition, Ho and his family continued to prosper, and had a net worth of $14.9 billion in 2019, according to Bloomberg.

Indeed, this was quite a rise for a man whose Hong Kong-based family lost its fortune during the Great Depression and was forced to flee to Macau when Japan invaded in 1941. Perhaps for these reasons, Ho gave generously in both time and money to many causes, including disaster relief, cultural and technological advancement, Chinese heritage conservation and education.

Like many pioneers, Ho suffered from some low points in his career, the most notable was alleged associations with Chinese gangs that used his properties to launder money in the 1980s and 1990s, and, in later years, family in-fighting over control of his business empire. 

But in the final accounting, Ho made Macau, Macau, enriching millions of people along the way, a positive act that must surely outweigh any negatives.

RIP Dr. Stanley Ho.