On this day in 1999, the sovereignty control of Macau was officially transferred from Portugal to China, as agreed upon by the two countries. To celebrate its 18th anniversary under the People’s Republic, Macau is honoring one of its most successful entrepreneurs, casino billionaire and Melco Resorts founder Lawrence Ho.
The Macau Special Administrative Region announced this week that Ho was being awarded the “Tourism Medal of Merit,” an honor reserved for those who “have made major or excellent contributions” in the travel and hospitality sector.
The enclave’s government said a formal ceremony will be held later next month.
Recent winners of the tourism medal include Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, who has served as the director of the Macau Government Tourism Office since 2012, the Macau Grand Prix Committee, Macau Travel Industry Council President Wu Keng Kuong, and junket group Shun Tak.
Ho Ho Ho
Amid China President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on VIP junkets, which led to Macau gaming revenue plummeting from $45 billion in 2013 to $28.8 billion in 2015, Ho decided to open his new $2 billion Cotai Strip casino resort without private high roller rooms.
Making Studio City a VIP-free casino was a business decision, and not a political one, despite skepticism from his billionaire colleagues, the entrepreneur noted.
Ho also recently severed ties with Australian billionaire James Packer, whose company Crown Resorts had been a 50-50 partner with Melco for its Macau properties. China arrested 18 Crown employees in 2016 on crimes of promoting gambling activities.
Lawrence’s father, 96-year-old fellow billionaire Stanley Ho, received the Gold Medal of Merit in Tourism 16 years ago. The elder Ho controlled a four-decade gambling monopoly in Macau before the special administrative region issued six commercial gaming licenses in 2001. Stanley’s current wife, Angela Leong, was awarded the Industry and Commerce Medal of Merit in 2009.
The family will be hoping that Lawrence does a better job at upholding the Medal of Merit’s reputation than his cousin Alan Reginald John Ho did.
Less than four years after Alan, Stanley’s nephew, was awarded the Tourism Medal of Merit in 2011, the SJM casino executive was arrested and subsequently found guilty of running a prostitution ring inside the company’s Grand Lisboa casino hotel.
While prostitution itself is legal in Macau, organizing or operating a brothel is not.
License to Print Money
Macau’s six licensed casino operators, Ho’s Melco Resorts, his father’s SJM Holdings, Las Vegas Sands, MGM, Wynn, and Galaxy Entertainment, are all hoping to see their permits renewed in the coming years.
MGM and SJM are up first in 2020, with the four others scheduled to terminate in 2022. The Macau government is conducting in-depth reviews of the gaming industry, with the goal of “perfecting the laws and regulations.”
The review is rumored to focus on how to best regulate junket groups that bring VIPs from mainland China to the enclave. Another focus is how Macau can expand mass market gaming and non-gaming attractions.
The six operators are expected to be renewed, but in the interim, all will be on their best behavior to stay in the good graces of the region’s government.