Pansy Ho plans Macau makeover

HONG KONG - Ms Pansy Ho, Hong Kong's richest woman and the daughter of Macau gambling godfather Stanley Ho, is lining up her chips for a new era in the world's casino capital that promises much more than gambling.

Born into a family that developed a flourishing gambling culture in the southern Chinese territory more than 50 years ago, Ms Ho is now a key player spearheading a move to shape Macau into an arts, culture and entertainment hub, and away from the gaudy casino halls that raked in US$38 billion (S$48.6 billion) last year.

Co-chairman of United States casino MGM China and managing director of property-to-transport conglomerate Shun Tak, she is positioning her sprawling business empire to capitalise on Macau's new generation of growth, boosted by the influx of affluent Chinese holidaymakers.

"Macau has become an entirely different destination," she said, adamant that the world's casino capital cannot rely just on gaming to fuel growth.

Art galleries, music festivals, cultural shows and theatre are some of the initiatives Ms Ho plans to take to Macau. She is also positioning Shun Tak in hotel management, aviation and property, further expanding the family business' extensive footprint in the Pearl River Delta.

One of 17 children of Mr Ho's four wives, Ms Ho has emerged as the most prominent heir to her 91-year-old father's empire. Since joining Shun Tak more than 15 years ago, she has helped grow it into a sprawling conglomerate worth HK$11 billion (S$1.8 billion). Forbes estimates Ms Ho's net worth at US$4.4 billion.

Educated at a Catholic girls' school in Hong Kong and passionate about the arts from a yoaung age, Ms Ho was keen to study literature and drama in the US, but her father disapproved.

She ended up studying marketing and international business management at the University of Santa Clara in California.

Prior to the build-up of opulent multi-billion-dollar resorts, Macau's casinos tended to be dark and dingy with few shopping or fine-dining options.

The difference today is stark. Ten years ago, Macau had only one short street of high-end stores compared to hundreds of luxury outlets today.

"I almost always have a strong passion about the things I do. I wouldn't say aggressive, but I am always trying very hard to make sure that things will succeed," said Ms Ho.