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Gambling/General : Nevada commission finds MGM Mirage venture suitable

By Daniel Michaels

Level: Apr 27th 2007
After the four-hour meeting, the Nevada Gaming Commission was content to approve the suitability of the business project between the gaming industry's second-largest casino operator and the daughters of a controversial Chinese billionaire. The commission agreed with the Gaming Control Board's recommendation of approval last month. The five-member board unanimously approved Las Vegas-based MGM Mirage's involvement with Pansy Ho in the MGM Grand Macau, a 50-50 project that is expected to open by the end of the year.

MGM Mirage Chairman Terry Lanni said the MGM Grand Macau will have 600 hotel rooms and a casino with 345 table games and 1,035 slot machines. The company expects to employ 6,000 workers at the hotel-casino.

Pansy Ho is the daughter of Stanley Ho, a Chinese businessman who owns several Macau gambling halls, including the Lisboa Casino near the site of the MGM Grand Macau. Through the years, there was some speculation that his Macau casinos have been involved with organized crime group engaged in money washing, credit sharking, drug trafficking and prostitution. The two sisters Ho, Pansy and Daisy, sustain that their father is not handling their affairs. He only supplied them with a trust fund, a part from the initial $80 million investment, for the development of MGM Grand Macau. Las Vegas attorney John O'Reilly who represented the Ho sisters appreciated that the two were one of the most cooperative and the most investigated applicants ever.

Gaming commission Chairman Pete Bernhard, after a 90-minute presentation by MGM Mirage and the Ho sisters about the business arrangement, said he required answers to several regulatory and legal questions about the deal. Bernhard mentioned that he was worried about whether or not the money the Ho sisters invested in the transaction came "from a fitting source with good character and integrity." He wanted assurances that Nevada gaming regulators could get periodical reports on the MGM Grand Macau, even though the casino is operating so far away. Also, Bernhard was thinking about the fact that a month long Internet campaign was set against the deal being waged by an upstate New York citizen’s coalition financed by a fundamentalist Christian minister. The gaming commission was concerned that finding the agreement suitable between MGM Mirage and Pansy Ho could bring negative publicity to the state.

After several hours of discussion Commissioner Art Marshall concluded. "We're determining whether or not Pansy Ho and Daisy Ho are suitable to do business with MGM Mirage. We're not licensing Dr. Stanley Ho". Bernhard agreed that past actions of the Ho sisters in their business dealings guarantee that regulators were on safe grounds in supporting the deal. With this, Pansy Ho allowed Nevada gaming regulators to view the financial records of the MGM Grand Macau if they should ask. “There cannot be any third part interference in the deal being made with MGM. It proves the suitability of the business”, Bernhard mentioned.

Following the commission decision, a San Francisco-based attorney representing Stanley Ho's estranged sister, Winnie Ho, presented a five-page statement to the gaming commission, claiming Stanley Ho has tried to use Pansy Ho in the past to open a casino. He said that he is pretty sure that other interests are involved in his brother’s business. However, the arrangement was the first deal ever considered by Nevada gaming regulators under the state's foreign gaming act, which covers state gaming licensees doing business outside of Nevada.

Bernhard assumed it was important to build a testimony for future projects between Nevada casino operators and foreign business owners. "Licensees going into other jurisdictions and other foreign entities coming here need to see how we determine the language of the statues.”

Pansy Ho, 44 years old, is a graduate of the University of Santa Clara in Northern California. She turned her south China transportation business from a small ferryboat operation into a complex business publicly traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange with market capitalization of $3.35 billion. Daisy Ho, 42 years old, graduated from the University of Southern California and gave a helping hand to her sister's as a co-director and chief financial officer.

MGM Mirage's financial contribution is estimated at $280 million and Pansy Ho investment at $80 million. The rest of the development's costs are supported by several bank institutions.

Finally, in February 2005, the Mississippi Gaming Commission accepted the alliance between MGM and Pansy Ho. Now New Jersey only has to approve the plan, but the attorney general's office is still looking into the deal. George Rover, an assistant attorney general for New Jersey representing the state's Division of Gaming Enforcement, watched the hearing and decided not to comment on the matter.
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