Stanly Ho's fourth wife, Angela Leong, has played her cards well to sit atop her husband's massive casino empire. (Photo/CFP)
Angela Leong, the fourth wife of casino mogul Stanley Ho, has emerged from a bruising fight with his heirs to stand atop one of the world's most lucrative gambling empires, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Leong, 50, now controls a US$1.2 billion interest in Ho's core casino holdings. Ho has dominated Macau's casino industry for decades.
Ho's fourth wife fended off a messy public challenge mounted by two of his former wives and their children to box her out, winning the power to shape the future of Macau's most lucrative gambling operation, which earned US$457 million on revenue of US$7.4 billion from its 20 casinos last year.
The family agreement reached last month allows Leong to remain as executive director of the Ho empire flagship company, SJM Holdings Ltd, for six years, according to sources familiar with the agreement, consolidating her influence on the company's board.
The agreement brings the family quarrel to at least a temporary end, with analysts saying Leong's victory will bring stability to the company. She is expected to keep the current management team, with whom she has worked closely. SJM is also expected to increase its focus on mainland gamblers traveling to Macau, putting her personal and political ties to use.
Now Leong is pushing forward with ambitious projects. Her vision is a US$1.3 billion plan to build a Macau theme park and resort with six hotels, an indoor beach and an equestrian center. The complex will not however feature a casino, in line with the Macau government's efforts to diversify the territory's economy.
Ho, who is 89 and now uses a wheelchair following brain surgery two years ago, accused Leong's rivals in the family of stealing his assets by issuing new shares and dividing them up. His children denied the allegations and said he had authorized the transactions. Ho sued his children before later dropping the lawsuit, twice.
For Leong, a petite woman who speaks little English and is known for her love of fashion and diamonds, the latest developments mark the achievement of ambitions that date back three decades.
Her early life as the privileged daughter of a Chinese army officer ended when her father died of liver disease when she was 13 and her family was kicked out a special compound for elite families. The upheaval inspired Leong to vow to build a better life, she said.
She later entered a state-run dance school, where she excelled and successfully auditioned for a coveted space in a Guangdong dance troupe.
By 1982, tempted by tales of riches and opportunity across the border, Leong arrived in Macau, where she had friends and relatives.
Leong taught dance and aerobics in Macau and saved money to invest in real estate, which was booming amid China's sudden growth. Through a student who was a brother of Ho, she landed a daytime shift counting earnings in one of Ho's casino's. The same brother later introduced her to Ho, an avid ballroom dancer. The two gradually developed a relationship, Leong said.
By the time Ho met Leong in 1986, she already owned several apartments. By the early 1990s, with his backing, she was spearheading property deals for Ho's business in Guangdong province, including golf courses that she helped plan from the ground up.
Since then, Leong has built a strong power base. In addition to her post in Macau's biggest casino operator, she has vast real-estate holdings, runs her own casino, is vice chairman of the Macau Jockey Club and sits on the boards of prominent charities and several political advisory groups in mainland China. In 2005, she won a seat in Macau's legislature, where she is serving her second term.
Stanly Ho 何鴻燊
Angela Leong 梁安琪