POLICE probing the murky world of Hong Kong's casino ships face a high stakes industry where ownership is obscured behind a web of offshore companies. Three local companies manage four ships, all registered with ''flags of convenience'' and all raising the ire of Macau casino king Stanley Ho. The 25-year-old New Orient Princess, now ablaze beached off Junk Bay, has undergone four name changes on paper in the past 12 months. Lloyd's Shipping Intelligence may list a Panamanian company, Gatmore Enterprises, as its final owners, but Post sources said the ship was controlled by a small group of local high-rolling punters turned investors. The source, until recently a shareholder, said that to turn a profit the owners must attract big bets to compete with Mr Ho's established set-up in Macau. ''It's undisciplined and dangerous, not a good a trade to be in when the owners are playing your money as if they were on the other side of the table. ''These people are gamblers themselves, they lure in their friends and they seek big money.'' The ships also attract professional gamblers whose faces are often unwelcome in Macau. The New Orient Princess was linked two years ago to a niece of the ageing Yip Hon, an arch-rival and former partner of Mr Ho. The woman has since left, but the vessel's investors pushed the link to Mr Yip to lend credibility to their operation, the source said. South American topless dancers, restaurants, saunas and duty-free shops are all provided to pull in extra money, but it is at the tables that the real profits are made. ''When you've only got a few hours to gamble, you gamble . . . you can get a woman any time,'' the source said. The extreme risks in high-stakes play were recently revealed in the Post after one gambler managed to clean out the bank on the Queen of Jin Jiang - one of the New Orient Princess' rivals - in a single evening of blackjack and baccarat in May. The ship has since been sold back to a Shanghai corporation and is under urgent repair. Its agents, Win Peak, were considered direct rivals to the firm that manages the New Orient Princess, Sovereign Superb Shipping Limited. Company management refused to comment yesterday. Now the modern Delfin Star is the only gambling ship taking to the water each night, but its agents, MSL Shipping Management, are trying to reincarnate the original Orient Princess. Mr Ho, who has been angered by ship touts stalking the floors of his Macau casinos, is now exerting political pressure in Macau to stop the trade before it eats up his profits.