Considered the father of modern gambling in China, Hos long and eventful life tracked the ebb and flow of southern Chinas fortunes. After a swashbuckling start as a kerosene trader, he ended up as Macaus richest person, a lavish spender and debonair ballroom dancer.
A family statement said he died peacefully in his sleep, but did not give a cause of death.
Ho had stakes in businesses running everything from the ferries and helicopters connecting Hong Kong and Macao to department stores, hotels, Macaos airport and its horse-racing tracks.
But he said he avoided the gambling floor.
“I dont gamble at all. I dont have the patience,” Ho told The Associated Press in a rare interview in 2001. “Dont expect to make money in gambling. Its a house game. Its for the house.”
Ho was born on Nov. 25, 1921, into the Hotung family, one of Hong Kongs wealthiest and most powerful. When he was 13, his father abandoned the family after being wiped out by a stock market crash during the Great Depression.
Hos studies at Hong Kong University were interrupted by World War II. Fluent in English and Chinese, he was working as a telephone operator for British forces when the colony fell to Japan. He boarded a boat for neutral Macao, joining refugees from mainland China in the dying fishing port.
“I had to throw away my uniform and run to Macao as a refugee,” Ho said in the 2001 interview.
During the war, Ho said he ran nighttime smuggling and trading trips up the Pearl River Delta, on one occasion surviving a pirate attack.
Eventually, he secured a four-decade monopoly on casinos in Macao, using that home advantage to build an empire that still dominated the industry for years after the local gaming market opened to foreign companies in 2002.
“Macao treated me so well. I went there with 10 dollars in my pocket and became a millionaire before the age of 20,” Ho said.
Portugal transferred control of its colony Macao to China in 1999 and Hos monopoly ended in 2002. That brought in foreign rivals including Las Vegas Sands Corp., Wynn Resorts Ltd., and MGM Resorts International, spurring a building boom that transformed the sleepy, seedy former colonial outpost into a glitzy gambling powerhouse frequented by high-rolling mainland Chinese.
The new players brought slick offerings to compete with SJMs nearly two dozen no-frills casinos, but Hos group waited years to build its own lavish megaresort.
SJMs market share in Macao dropped to 14 percent in 2019 from the more than 30 percent share it held a decade earlier.
Ho shrugged off allegations of ties to organized crime, such as a 2010 report by the New Jersey gaming commission that accused him of letting Chinese criminal gangs, or triads, prosper inside his casinos during the 1990s.
Ho occasionally made news with extravagant gestures such as paying $8.9 million in 2007 for a bronze horse head looted by French troops from Chinas imperial palace 150 years earlier so he could donate it to a Chinese museum. He also twice bid a record $330,000 for truffles at charity auctions.
In 2009, Ho had brain surgery after reportedly falling at home. He spent seven months in the hospital and was rarely seen in public afterward, usually in a wheelchair.