Asian casino king Stanley Ho said he has dropped a lawsuit against some of his family members and settled an inheritance dispute over a stake in his Macau casino empire worth about $1.6 billion.
The high-stakes drama offered a glimpse into the private life of one of Hong Kong's wealthiest men and highlighted the ugly power struggle for control of Hong Kong-listed casino operator Sociedade de Jogos de Macau, or SJM.
A joint statement released Thursday by Ho and his family said the dispute had been "fully resolved" and an agreement reached.
The 89-year-old Ho made headlines in Hong Kong and around the world earlier this year after he disputed the transfer of the stake to the families of his second and third wives. Ho's lawyer had said the ailing tycoon, who was hospitalized for seven months after reportedly undergoing brain surgery in August 2009, was misled into signing over the shares.
SJM shares jumped 6.8 percent to 12.92 Hong Kong dollars after the announcement, making Ho's stake, which he owns through a holding company, worth about $1.6 billion.
Ho has 16 surviving children by four women he calls his wives. He said he wanted to divide his assets equally among the families.
The statement said Ho acted in person to file a notice on Feb. 21 to drop the lawsuit, which had been filed at Hong Kong's High Court five days earlier. A settlement among all branches of the family was reached on March 8, it said.
"We have agreed that we will work together and continue to develop the gambling business in Macau founded by Dr. Ho and operated by the Ho family to enable it to flourish" it said.
The statement made no mention of whether the shares were returned to Ho or how any assets were divided.
Public relations firms representing Ho's law firm and the families of his second and third wives confirmed the settlement.
Angela Leong, Ho's fourth "wife," told Hong Kong's Cable TV on Friday that "everybody has equal participation" in SJM and its controlling shareholder, Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau, or STDM. Ho's holding company owns a controlling stake in STDM.
The announcement is the latest twist in a dramatic family feud filled with claims and counterclaims. At one point, Ho appeared on local television flanked by his third wife and one of their daughters to say that he was firing his lawyer. Days later, his lawyer released three video clips of the two discussing the dispute, including a part where Ho said he was pressured into the TV appearance.
SJM operates 17 casinos, four slot machine lounges and two hotels in Macau, the world's most lucrative gambling market. Forbes earlier this year estimated Ho's fortune at $3.1 billion but he has fallen off the magazine's latest billionaire list, replaced by Leong, whose wealth is estimated at $1.1 billion. She is the mother of Ho's five youngest children.
Macau's economy has boomed since it broke up its gambling monopoly eight years ago. Ho's casinos, which now compete against the likes of Las Vegas Sands Corp. and MGM Resorts, are still the market leaders, accounting for about 30 percent of the city's gambling revenue, which surged to a record $23.5 billion last year.