Lawrence Ho, James Packer’s casino partner in Macau.
AFTER A “TERRIFYING” EXPERIENCE DURING THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS, JAMES PACKER’S PARTNERSHIP WITH LAWRENCE HO IN MACAU IS NOW PAYING OFF HANDSOMELY.
awrence Ho is the first to admit his relationship with James Packer has been anything but perfect. “The nine-year partnership is similar to a marriage,” he tells “So it hasn’t been constant blue skies because we did have some tough times, especially during the global financial crisis.”
The partners’ first casino-hotel project, CrownMacau (now known asAltira), started poorly. Then their flagship $2 billionCity of Dreams casino resort development had its own tough initiation, opening just as the GFC was taking hold. In the early months, critics described it as a ghost town with the wrong product in the wrong spot.
There was speculation at that time of a falling out between the gaming scions, as Crown was forced to step in to help its partner. But, Ho says, the depth of his friendship with Packer got them through. “When we were going through the hard times, we really did it together. We didn’t try to do bad stuff towards one another. We had full trust and loyalty and faith in one another.”
Packer describes the GFCexperience as “terrifying”. And, like Ho, he acknowledges that each could have taken advantage of the other’s position of weakness. “There were times when I had more leverage and I could have boughtmore shares and done whatever,” Packer says. “And there were probably times when he could havemademy life more difficult. But we have both behaved perfectly.”
Now with its focus on the premium mass market, rather than on extremely lucrative VIP rooms, City of Dreams is a resounding success and has become one of the focal points within theCotai Strip. Next on the agenda is a new tower at City of Dreams, which Ho confirmswill cost in the “ballpark” of $US1 billion. After that will be the $US2 billion Studio City project, scheduled to open in mid-2015. The group also has ambitions in Japan, The Philippines and Taiwan.
Packer says the two sons of famous fathers don’t talk as often as they once did, but he believes that says a great deal about his confidence in the business, of whichHo is the chief executive. “There are six board meetings a year. I get daily reports fromthe business, so I knowhowmuchmoney is won and lost every day, and then weekly reports. Lawrence and I talk once or twice between board meetings.”
While those chats areprimarily about the business thesedays, it wasn’t always thatway. Inthe early years of their partnership, they used to talk candidly about their billionaire fathers and their contrasting experiences of forging a path in the business world.
“I have learnt a lot from James,” says Ho, who is the son of casino magnate StanleyHo and his secondwife. Ho senior, nowwith his fourth wife, has 17 children. “When [James] was growing up, his father was famous for being very involved and hard on him. Most people don’t know this, but my father wasn’t really involved and he didn’t care what I did at all. It was very different. Jamesmet my father a fewtimes in the early days and I had the honour of meeting Kerry a few times in the early days, before his passing.’’
Ho says he has no resentment towards his now-frail nonagenarian