Ho cuts holding in son’s gamble

Macau gambling tycoon Stanley Ho has sold a AUD 170 million stake in James Packer’s Hong Kong-based casino partner, Melco.

Stanley Ho announced over the weekend that he had sold more than 50 million shares in Melco, cutting his stake in the company run by his son, Lawrence Ho, from 12.75 per cent to 8.45 per cent.

The move to further reduce Stanley Ho’s ties with his son’s company comes as the joint venture between Melco and Mr Packer’s Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd, awaits news on a bid for Singapore’s next hotel/casino complex. Melco and PBL are part of a consortium which has unveiled plans for a AUD 3 billion complex on Singapore’s Sentosa island – one of three groups vying for the right to build a second „integrated resort“ in Singapore next year.

Stanley Ho, who held the monopoly on Macau’s casino industry until the Government opened up the market in 2002, has been the subject of allegations that he has links to Asian organised crime, prompting a probity investigation by US gaming authorities into a proposed casino development in Macau between MGM and Stanley Ho’s daughter Pansy.

Gaming authorities in Victoria and Western Australian finally gave their approval for PBL‘s proposal to link up with Melco in September after a two-year investigation.

Their decision came after Stanley Ho stepped down as chairman of Melco and the move by PBL and Melco to spend AUD 1.2 billion buying their own Macau casino licence rather than relying on operating in casinos licensed by companies associated with Stanley Ho.

Singapore authorities, who will announce the winning bidders over the next few weeks, are expected to demand a high level of probity from the operators of their two casino developments.

Stanley Ho’s sale of a 4.3 per cent stake in Melco comes as he is gearing up to list his Macau casino operations on the Hong Kong stock exchange.

Hong Kong sources say the share sale was a move to reduce the risk of conflict of interest between Lawrence’s Ho’s Melco and the float being proposed by Stanley Ho, with both actively involved in the Macau casino business.

However, the further reduction of Stanley Ho’s links with Melco must also be seen as a plus for PBL, given concerns by some gaming regulators about allegations surrounding the connections of Ho senior.

The share sale was made easier given the rising price of Melco’s shares, with analysts around the world upgrading their interest in the opportunities in the Macau market.

Mr Packer and Lawrence Ho are now working on a possible USD 1 billion (AUD 1.28 billion) float of a part interest in their Macau casino interests on the US over the counter market, NASDAQ.