The opulent Grand Lisboa, which is owned by Stanley Ho's SJM Holdings group, in Macau. Photo: AFP

The God of Gambling has decided to discard his deck of cards and put away the casino wheel. In an announcement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Stanley Ho, or “the Godfather of Macau”, will retire as the chairman of SJM Holdings, the gaming chain.

One of Asia’s richest men, the 96-year-old plans to stay on as Chairman Emeritus of the group with his daughter Daisy taking over the reins of the business.

“Dr. Ho has justifiably been acknowledged as the founding father of Macau’s gaming industry, which has for some time been the largest in the world in terms of revenue,” SJM confirmed in a statement.

The flamboyant tycoon is one of Hong Kong’s best-known businessmen.

His swashbuckling corporate style transformed Macau from a backwater peninsula dotted with seedy, gambling dens into the world’s biggest casino center.

Last June, Ho retired as chairman of the Hong Kong conglomerate Shun Tak Holdings, with his daughter Pansy taking over the role.

A flamboyant entrepreneur and avid ballroom dancer, Ho cultivated his playboy lifestyle, with claims that he fathered at least 17 children.

One of them, Lawrence, runs rival casino and hotel operator Melco International in Macau.

Ho’s decision comes just weeks after Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-Shing, announced his retirement in March.

While Li stayed close to the business operations of CK Hutchison Holdings and CK Asset Holdings before stepping down, Ho has been in semi-retirement for a number of years.

After making a fortune smuggling luxury goods into China from Macau during World War II, he secured the only gaming license in the then-Portuguese colony in 1962. The rest has gone down in folklore.

“In recognition of Dr. Ho’s invaluable contributions to the Group during his tenure of services, the Board will appoint [him] as Chairman Emeritus of the company following his retirement,’ SJM said in its statement.

– with reporting from Reuters and AFP

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