The inventor

Baccarat, junkets, VIP rooms, all Stanley Ho’s STDM creations that continue to be hallmarks of  Macau’s casinos. 

Stanley Ho’s legacy 


Gambling has changed a lot since liberalization, with the entry of US players, but it has changed mainly in terms of quantity. 

Of course, Sands or Wynn casinos are much different from older ones from STDM, but, once again, we’re talking about looks, perception, marketing, brightness, and color. 

It is said that prior to liberalization, a customer at a STDM casino had to pay for the drink, even though he was spending a lot of money (outside the VIP rooms, of course). 

US operators brought another quality of service, giving another ‘importance’ to the customer. 

But the way people gamble today in Macau is the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago. 

For example, Las Vegas is made with slot machines; in Macau, they are almost nonexistent. By contrast, baccarat has a ridiculous expression in the capital of Nevada, while here it is domineering. 

Another very relevant example: Sands and company would rather not have to deal with gambling promoters, who have to pay high commissions without controlling the operation, but had to adapt and live by these exact rules. 

What do baccarat and junkets have in common? 

They appeared in Macau by the hand of Stanley Ho. 

Both baccarat and junkets were of no importance before STDM won the license in 1962. 

Baccarat, as a card game, had already been invented in Italy, but few would imagine that it would umbilically attach itself to the Chinese gambling after appearing in 1966. 

“There is no doubt that in 1975 Baccarat was widely studied at STDM,” says the author of the book “Os Casinos de Macau” (The Casinos of Macau), published last year. “The rise of Baccarat is undoubtedly the great phenomenon of these years,” adds the University of Macau professor, noting that in 1977 this was already Macau’s main game and in 1984 it represented 65 percent of the market. 

As Jorge Godinho also writes, at least since the 1930s, the use and remuneration of client raisers has been known. But it is “the advance of mathematical knowledge of Baccarat variants that allows one more step.” 

And the step is to “give away some of your expected profit,” says Mr Godinho, with declining revenues being offset by increased stakes. 

STDM sold this part to speculators selling tickets for Hong Kong boats at higher prices and making the deal more difficult: ticket dealers abandoned the ferry terminal and received ‘dead chips’ to deal with potential customers. 

The activity of the junkets began there. 

From two other originalities: the concessionaire of credit for gambling and the hiring of specific rooms of the casino, for VIP games, in partnership with the junkets. The first appeared in 1984. 

Stanley Ho was right when he said, after the entry of his new competitors, that “the success of one market model cannot be migrated to another. Ignoring Macau’s special characteristics and duplicating a Las Vegas or an Atlantic City would not be a successful strategy.” 

It was not Macau that adapted to the casinos of Las Vegas, it was these that adapted to the reality of Macau – to the point that what we know until now as the profile of the Chinese gambler (high roller or mass market) was an invention of Stanley Ho. “STDM was the key to Macau’s effective transformation into a modern and developed economy,” writes the author of “Os Casinos de Macau.” 

Once here, the reader will ask: if so, why did SJM lose market leadership and few believe that it can return there? 

There will be several reasons, but one seems obvious: STDM has not prepared for the arrival of the competition. 

As mentioned before, the Hotel / Casino Lisboa was a breakthrough in 1970, but in 1999 it remained the company’s ex-libris, although there were already 11 casinos. 

The big answer came only in 2008, with the opening of the Grand Lisboa. 

And the arrival at Cotai is a rather embarrassing story. 

No one can say for sure that SJM would be leading among the six operators if it had anticipated the arrival of Las Vegas. 

But maybe not so far behind …