Pansy Ho to testify in US this month

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 February, 2007, 12:00am

Gaming board sets tentative February 27 date for hearings over MGM partnership

Pansy Ho Chiu-king will publicly testify before United States gaming officials as soon as this month, as regulators in Nevada and New Jersey near the end of separate more than year-long investigations into her suitability to partner with Las Vegas gaming giant MGM Mirage in a US$1.1 billion Macau joint-venture casino project.

Sources yesterday said the Nevada Gaming Control Board had set February 27 as a tentative start date for the hearings, which are expected to last several days and include testimony from MGM executives, Ms Ho and sister Daisy Ho Chiu-fung.

Last month, Ms Ho travelled to New Jersey for a closed-door, two-day sworn interview with investigators from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, according to separate sources. The state has yet to schedule its public hearing.

Regulators are focusing on Ms Ho's relationship with her father, former Macau casino monopolist Stanley Ho Hung-sun. If MGM's partnership with Ms Ho is found 'unsuitable' by regulators in either state, the New York-listed firm could lose its gaming licences or be forced to choose between ending the Macau partnership and divesting casino interests in the US.

MGM and Ms Ho are 50-50 partners in MGM Grand Paradise, a Macau joint venture that broke ground on the US$1.1 billion MGM Grand Macau casino resort in June 2005. The building will house a 600-room hotel and casino hall with 345 gaming tables and 1,035 slot machines when it opens in the second half.

MGM has gaming interests across the US but its stronghold is in Nevada where it owns and operates 20 properties and plans to build a US$7 billion gaming, retail and residential complex in downtown Las Vegas.

The company's only casino investment in New Jersey is the US$1.1 billion Borgata in Atlantic City, a 50-50 joint venture with New York-listed Boyd Gaming Corp.

MGM bid unsuccessfully for a Macau gaming licence in 2002. In June 2004, the firm announced the partnership with Ms Ho and in April 2005, the joint venture bought a 'subconcession' or gaming licence from her father's Sociedade de Jogos de Macau for US$200 million.

New Jersey formally launched its investigation into the partnership in late 2005, while Nevada announced an official probe early last year. Investigators from both jurisdictions have made repeated visits to Macau in the past 18 months.

'Stanley Ho is a wealthy Chinese businessman who has been the subject of numerous public allegations suggesting that he has ties to Asian organised crime,' the New Jersey attorney-general's office said in its 2005 annual report. 'The investigation focuses on the relationship of Pansy Ho and her father.'

Mr Ho has previously issued repeated denials of links to organised crime.

A spokesman for Ms Ho yesterday said: '[She] is continuing to co-operate with the ongoing US gaming regulatory process and it would be inappropriate for any of the parties involved to comment further.'

Ms Ho is the managing director of Shun Tak Holdings and a director of Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau, her father's private conglomerate. Mr Ho is the chairman and a major shareholder of both firms.