Ties to Pansy Ho could damage MGM Resorts plans for Maryland casino

Could MGM Resorts International’s ties to Hong Kong businesswoman Pansy Ho sink a potential $800 million casino project in Maryland?

Over the weekend, the Washington Post brought up the company’s relationship with Ho, the daughter of controversial billionaire Stanley Ho. International law enforcement has alleged Chinese organized crime triads have an influence over Stanley Ho’s casino holdings in Macau.

MGM Resorts wants to develop a hotel-casino project at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, roughly 10 miles from Capitol Hill, if Maryland’s governor can convince legislators to establish license for the location.

Opponents of the project have begun to raise the issue of the company’s partnership with Pansy Ho, saying that the relationship gives MGM Resorts ties to organized crime.

Gaming regulators in four states — Nevada, Mississippi, Illinois and Michigan — signed off on Pansy Ho’s suitability as a joint venture partner in 2007, saying her father did not influence her business dealings. At the time, she owned 50 percent of the MGM Grand Macau.

In 2010, New Jersey gaming regulators said otherwise. They didn’t believe Pansy Ho was a suitable business partner for the casino operator because of her financial dependence on her father, who provided 90 percent of the funds she contributed to the MGM Grand Macau.

MGM Resorts was told to sever its ties with Pansy Ho.

Instead, MGM Resorts put its 50 percent stake in the Borgata on the market and vacated Atlantic City, selling additional land parcels.

The company has since restructured its Macau casino holdings, listing roughly 22 percent of the company on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange while retaining a controlling 51 percent stake. Pansy Ho’s holdings amount to 27 percent.

Macau, which produced a record-breaking $33.5 billion in gaming revenues in 2011, is far more lucrative than Atlantic City. MGM Resorts and Pansy Ho are also seeking approval from the Macau government to build a hotel-casino on Macau’s Cotai Strip.

“In New Jersey and Nevada, they looked at the same evidence and came to different conclusions,” William Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada at Reno, told the Post.

The question could be moot if Gov. Martin O’Malley doesn’t call a special legislative session or can’t get issue past lawmakers.

But that’s not stopping some Maryland casino opponents.

A reference to Macau appears in a new television ad sponsored by the Prince George’s County Contractors Association, a group opposing the casino.

“Why would the company which would run the casino forfeit its New Jersey license,” the ad asks, “rather than give up ties to organized crime?”

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