With the death of Stanley Ho it is hard not to have a melancholic feeling that another part of old Macau has disappeared forever.
The bigger than life business mogul placed his mark on almost every tile placed, street built and dollar spent in the Pearl River Delta and without him we would probably be talking more of Macau gross fishing revenues than gross gaming revenues monthly.
We should mourn the death of Stanley Ho not just because of his achievements, but also because he probably was the last of a kind that used to be worshipped in the HK-Macau axis: the beloved business tycoon.
He embodied a set of attributes one struggles to find in current business giants in the region. He was a charming gentleman that could easily bridge the gap between Anglophone, Chinese and Portuguese communities with ease.
He was as comfortable dealing with Guangzhou party cadres as at ballroom charity events in Causeway Bay.
He also deeply cared about improving the lives of Macau residents and had his hand in several crucial infrastructure projects in the city, from the Macau International Airport to the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal.
Was he also taking care of his financial interests? Yes of course, but in the process helped turn the city into a truly top regional tourism and gambling destination.
Local experienced reporter João Guedes recounted in an anecdote to TDM that in the 1970’s the city risked a complete shutdown in energy after the Portuguese administration struggled to repay a MOP15 million debt to Shell.
After a hat-in-hand request by the administration, Stanley quickly took out his chequebook and footed the expenses.
However, he surely was no saint. In an interview in 1989 he quipped that shortly after opening the Hotel Lisboa he managed to throw a group of American hustlers who scammed his casino out of US$500,000 on a craps table with loaded dice, in prison thanks to his friendly ties with local police authorities.
“In the prisons in Macau rats were bigger than cats and they and they bit of the years and toes of the Americans. I never had any of these cheaters again,” he commented laughing.
After all, no man would make it in the local gaming scene without a large amount of street smarts, cunning, and ruthlessness, which Ho had in spades.
After his passing Ho has also been repeatedly hailed as a patriot entrepreneur. He surely loved China and would be proud of how much the country has developed since the hardships of the 30s and 40s he experienced in his younger years.
But he was also very pragmatic, and he once suggested that maybe Hong Kong should be under UN administration.
In any case, his colourful business and family life has been greatly documented and reviewed by better scribes than me.
We have not seen much of Stanley since his tragic domestic accident in 2009, when he became a shadow of the force of nature that changed the face of this city.
We live in a time where billionaires and business tycoons are vilified in Hong Kong because of their close ties with local and Chinese governments.
Masters of the coin previously hailed for cunning real estate deals are now dispised for contributing to the astronomic rent prices in the region.
One just needs to see the change in the public perception of similar figures from his generation, such as magnate Li Ka-shing, 30rd richest man in the world and a common target for residents in the neighbouring SAR for his support of policies such as the new national security law.
So where is the next Stanley Ho?
Where is the next magnate respected by poor and rich alike who inspires people with his rags-to-riches story?
Where is the next ‘God of Gamblers’ that changes the face and geography of a city not just out of financial interest but also as part of large scheme to help modernize and improve the lives of its inhabitants?
Where is the next ingenious magnate who threads the corridors of power of the Great Hall of the People to advise and help Chinese leaders on how to better develop the country’s economy while also receiving Christmas cards from US Presidents?
As tensions continue to rise, we sure seem to need one.