By Kate O’Keeffe
Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
MACAU (Dow Jones)–Macau’s top gambling regulator said he wasn’t concerned about changes in family ownership at Stanley Ho’s casino empire, a sign that the local government won’t likely interfere with a share transfer dispute that has made its way to Hong Kong courts.
The comments by Gaming Inspection & Coordination Bureau director Manuel Joaquim Das Neves come as the drama involving the ailing tycoon’s fight to regain control of his casino firm from members of his family continues to unfold.
Ho earlier this month restarted a lawsuit against two of his daughters for failing to return assets to him as promised. At stake is the firm held by Ho that controls the parent company of SJM Holdings Ltd. (0880.HK), Macau’s biggest casino operator by revenue. Ho’s daughters have yet to respond to his accusations.
Neves told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview Thursday that the regulator had contacted SJM on the shareholding changes, but was told the company is still waiting on the results of Ho family discussions. Ownership changes at any of Macau’s six casino operators require government approval.
Neves said once SJM clarifies where the shares are going, “it will solve everything.”
“It will be a very simple (approval) process because they’re all members of the same family. We don’t need to check their background,” said Neves.
Stanley Ho held a decades-long monopoly over Macau’s gambling market until 2002, when the industry was opened up to competitors such as Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS) and Wynn Resorts Ltd. of the U.S. Still, Ho’s SJM continues to command the largest share of the territory’s gambling market.
A lawyer representing Ho has said the patriarch planned to divide his assets equally among all branches of his family, which consists of 16 known surviving children from four women he and others refer to as his wives.
But late last year, Ho’s shareholding in a company that controls SJM’s parent was diluted to nearly zero, with the rest split between only two family factions: his third wife, Ina Chan, and the children of his second wife, including Pansy and Daisy Ho–the subjects of his current court claim.
The proposed share transfer has raised questions over how the Pansy and Daisy Ho would comply with government regulations, as Macau forbids individuals from controlling more than one casino operator. Pansy Ho has a 50-50 casino joint-venture with MGM Resorts International (MGM) in Macau. Both daughters had been named to the board of the venture.
But Neves said the joint venture company had told the regulator that Daisy Ho stepped down from the board at the end of last year. MGM Macau declined to comment. Pansy and Daisy Ho couldn’t be reached for comment.
The move prompted speculation among Macau casino executives that Daisy Ho is attempting to distance herself from MGM so that she can seek a board seat at SJM, increasing her branch of the family’s influence there, while Pansy Ho would remain as the face of the MGM partnership.