MGM Mirage partner has familiar last name in Macau gaming circles - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

When 21 companies were competing in 2002 for three gaming concessions in Macau, MGM Mirage didn't make the cut.

The three concessions went to Stanley Ho (who had a monopoly for the previous 40 years, so he was a no-brainer to win), the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts.

Steve Wynn and eventually Sheldon Adelson decided going solo was better than partnering with locals.

But in making a second stab at getting a foothold in Macau, the MGM Mirage's Terry Lanni decided a local partner would provide the entre he needed. Billionaire Stanley Ho's name was floated.

Nevada gaming regulators nixed that. They let it be known that the controversial Stanley Ho wasn't an acceptable partner for MGM Mirage, saying, "Not just no, but hell no."

Last June, MGM Mirage announced it was entering into a joint venture to build a Macau casino with a woman whose name ID in Nevada was minimal: Pansy Ho, who is in her early 40s and is the oldest of Stanley Ho's 17 children. She reportedly is being groomed as her 84-year-old father's heir apparent to his casinos, shipping and property interests.

The MGM Mirage-Pansy Ho agreement (a 50-50 deal) is a subconsession under Stanley Ho's concession. Assurances have been made that he's not in on the deal.

The self-made tycoon has fought allegations for years that his Macau casinos have been involved with organized crime triads engaged in money-laundering, loan-sharking, drug-trafficking and prostitution. Even his sister, Winnie Ho, is alleging that triads are involved in his casinos.

He's denied all those claims and hasn't been prosecuted; but various governments, including Australia, view Stanley Ho unfavorably, while North Korea and Vietnam say he's suitable to enter their gaming markets.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. President William Weidner, a competitor of MGM Mirage in Macau and Singapore, said his company wouldn't have agreed to a partnership with the father or the daughter.

"We wouldn't take the risk of doing anything having to do with any Ho," he said.

If her partnership with the MGM Mirage wins approval, Pansy Ho will be competing with her father for casino business.

"Anyone who understands the Asian culture understands there is no such thing as competing with your dad," Weidner said. "Anybody who thinks there isn't one boss in that whole thing is deluding themselves."

MGM Mirage officials were too busy for an interview.

But Gaming Control Board member Bobby Siller, whose former career was with the FBI, made it sound as if Pansy Ho is not likely to be a major problem for the MGM Mirage.

Siller said he's worked with MGM Mirage to address whether there will be a suitable arrangement that will not bring discredit to Nevada.

Because Pansy Ho won't be operating in Las Vegas, she does not need a license in Nevada, but under the law, she is considered for suitability.

"In every area where I have raised issues and concerns about doing business in Macau, they (the MGM Mirage) have been cooperative and forthcoming in addressing each issue," Siller said.

Some time in the near future, he said, the control board will make a decision about the suitability of Pansy Ho. If no problems are found, the control board is likely to grant suitability without a public hearing.

Siller also was positive about the Macanese government's demonstration of a strict regulatory environment.

Knowing that Pansy Ho was a big deal there and a big "who?" in Las Vegas, the only interview I tried to get on my vacation in Hong Kong was with her. Who was this woman?

Word is she is a bright, articulate businesswoman. In the trivia realm, Asiaweek reported in 1997 that she said she started collecting rubies, emeralds, diamonds and sapphires when she was 4, and spends an average of $129,000 on every piece of jewelry.

Her assistant, Winny So, while seemingly helpful, kept picking dates and times for an interview, then postponing them, so my four available days passed without an interview.

Thus, the obvious question was never answered: If there is a conflict between her loyalty to her father and her contract with the MGM Mirage, doesn't Pop come first?

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