Galaxy casino founder adds US$10.2b to wealth on Macau boom

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 4:37pm

Galaxy Entertainment founder Lui Che-woo's wealth has jumped by US$10.2 billion this year, the most of any Asian billionaire, as the world's gaming capital Macau draws record revenue and shares hit a new high.

Lui has a net worth of US$22.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, and is ranked as the second-richest individual in Asia, trailing only fellow Hong Kong developer Li Ka-shing. Only Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad have made more money this year.

The billionaire, 84, holds one of six gaming licences in Macau and competes against casinos owned by Steve Wynn, Sheldon Adelson, Stanley Ho Hung-sun and his son Lawrence, and James Packer.

Lui and his son Francis are expanding their flagship casino Galaxy Macau in the city's Cotai area, Asia's version of the Las Vegas Strip, to capitalise on record visitors from the mainland.

Macau gaming revenue jumped 21.4 per cent to US$3.6 billion in September from a year ago, according to Macau Gaming Bureau data released yesterday. Visitors to Macau rose 14 per cent on October 1 and 2 amid the National Day holidays when hotels are known to triple their rates.

Gross gaming revenue this year is expected to grow 17 per cent to US$44.5 billion from a record US$38 billion last year, says Deutsche Bank analyst Karen Tang in Hong Kong.

Lui was born in 1929, in Jiangmen, Guangdong province, after his family moved back to China from San Francisco, where they had made a fortune running a laundry. In 1934, Lui followed his family as they fled war-torn China for Hong Kong. At 13, Lui began to support his family by selling street food.

As the second world war ended, Lui bought surplus construction equipment left after US forces invaded Okinawa. He imported machinery to Hong Kong and made his first fortune.

When he could not sell some stone crushers, he decided to start a quarrying business. The 26-year-old then founded K. Wah Group, whose construction materials have been used in a quarter of all Hong Kong buildings, according to the company's website. He invested the profits he made from construction into residential property development and later hotels in Hong Kong.

When Macau ended the four-decade gaming monopoly held by Stanley Ho in 2002, Lui's Galaxy Casino, with Adelson's Las Vegas Sands, won one of the three gaming concessions put up by the local government. Within a year, the partners had split the licence after they fell out over strategy: Adelson wanted to re-create Las Vegas in China, Lui wanted to cater to Asian tastes.

In 2006, Lui's StarWorld Macau, where gamblers can bet up to US$250,000 a hand, opened opposite Ho's Grand Lisboa.

Galaxy shares closed 2 per cent lower at HK$56.90 yesterday.