Macau tycoon rolls dice on media biz


UPDATED 6:10 p.m. PT Dec. 17, 2007

HONG KONG -- Pansy Ho, managing director of the newest Las Vegas-style mega-casino in the South China gambling hot spot of Macau, already is looking beyond her family's gaming legacy to other forms of media and entertainment.

As the MGM Grand Macau opens its doors today to guests invited from an Asian and international who's who list, Ho, a 50% owner, said Macau casinos and the ferries from Hong Kong remain the core business.

But the daughter of Stanley Ho -- a man whose four-decade Macau casino monopoly made him one of the world's 100 richest men -- said she hopes to inject "personality" and "her strengths as a woman" into the new resort, drawing on her love of art to bring more than just gambling to the former Portuguese colony, which is now China's most freewheeling city.

In addition to the 600-room hotel -- half-owned by MGM Mirage -- its adjacent 350,000-square-foot luxury brand retail space (including the first Hermes homewares shop) and the casino itself, Ho said the MGM Grand Macau has saved space for a cabaret or circus theater.

"We will turn our attention to the entertainment side, but it's going to be a heavy investment," Ho told The Hollywood Reporter in Hong Kong. "A fixed program show like this is going to be $100 million for building, upkeep and all the performers. We need to make that investment carefully so we are bringing something exciting and interesting."

In addition to such moves that would keep the MGM abreast with other new Las Vegas-style hotels in Macau such as the Venetian and the Wynn, Ho sees Macau as a city that soon will contend with Hong Kong as an Asian media hub.

A new $2 billion casino/retail/TV production complex called Macao Studio City is in development.

"We have to be careful because Macau is so close to Hong Kong, which has long been known for its entertainment and performance through all the different efforts of the government and the private sector," Ho said, adding that she is spotting a trend.

"Some of our competitors are bringing touring concerts and sporting events, and we are continuing to observe to see what directions the entertainment should take in order for us to gain some leverage."

Could Ho also be the leverage for her brother-in-law Conroy Chan, a model-turned-singer now looking to form a film production company?

"We will support him, for sure," Ho said, adding that her sister Josie Ho, wedded to Chan, also had come to her to discuss film projects. "She wants me to consider to be a producer, and I think that's a good chance. I would let her take the lead because of her connections and her immediate experiences."

Though MGM Mirage no longer has a direct connection to Hollywood after selling its studio business, Ho said her partners maintain good relations with performing artists.

"A lot of people have that association in their minds, and we will use it to bring more entertainment enjoyment to our customers," Ho said, adding that she already has been approached by a Hong Kong producer interested in using the MGM as a site for filming a gambling adventure film.

"No one room looks the same," Ho said. "All could be easily a film set."

Ho said she is working on a new reality TV show done onsite at the MGM Grand Macau and is negotiating to host the show's finale. A sort of supermodel contest, Ho said it would be "the first exercise that will achieve the property a lot of televised publicity."

Part of Ho's MGM game plan is to offer the property as a backdrop for Hong Kong filmmakers.

"It's a cooperation opportunity between Hong Kong and Macau," she said. "It's more and more difficult nowadays to find affordable locations in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has the talent in the film industry, but the customers themselves are yearning for new material and new locations. In today's terms, there is no such thing as a purely localized production."

Pointing to the rise in Hong Kong-China co-productions, Ho said: "What you need is more dimension, rather than just a base in Hong Kong. People can work freely in Hong Kong and Macau."

Would Ho form a media company of her own someday? "Maybe in the long run, that could be a general direction," she said.