Pansy Ho okay to go

Mar 6, 2007 5:40 AM

Pansy Ho waited four decades to get out from under the shadow of her father, Hong Kong billionaire Stanley Ho. After a passionate plea to Nevada gambling authorities that she is not her father’s puppet, she won initial approval last week to go ahead with her partnership with MGM Mirage to develop a $1.1 billion casino in Macau without his help.

"For almost all of the 40-some years of my life, I have been trying to find an open forum to find and to express that I believe I have the capabilities to be an independent person and also to obtain independent success," Pansy Ho said. "I think the MGM opportunity will give me the chance to prove that further."

Pansy Ho, 44, and MGM Mirage are constructing their first casino in the Chinese enclave of Macau, a short ferry ride from Hong Kong.

Nevada regulators spent more than two years investigating her background, based on lingering suspicions her father had ties to the organized crime gangs that allegedly ran VIP gambling rooms in his Macau casinos when the territory was still under Portuguese control.

Last week, regulators acknowledged those concerns are still lingering.

"There are volumes of controversy surrounding Dr. Stanley Ho, both historic and present," said Gaming Control Board member Randall Sayre. "From my perspective, he operates in an environment that is less transparent than I am comfortable with.

"But Mr. Stanley Ho is not in front of me today," he continued. "The joint venture participants must be measured on their own merits."

After some five hours of testimony and questions that delved into the source of income for Pansy and her sister Daisy and numerous interests in other Macau business ventures with their father, the three-member board gave its unanimous approval.

The board’s recommendation must now be confirmed by the Nevada Gaming Commission, which will meet near the end of March.

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement is expected to hold their own hearing later this spring.

Under Nevada gambling laws, holders of state licenses such as MGM Mirage must not violate any gambling laws abroad. They are also forbidden to enter into "unsuitable" associations that would "reflect discredit or disrepute upon this state" — a broad definition that gives the board discretion to probe further into Pansy and Daisy Ho’s past.

"It’s fair to say that the regulators in the United States don’t hold Dr. Ho in a very high regard," said MGM Mirage chief executive Terry Lanni. "When we crafted this, we crafted it in such a fashion that no third party could have an influence."

The recommendation paves the way for MGM to join its Las Vegas-based competitors, Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts, which opened resorts in Macau in 2004 and last year respectively, and plan to open more.