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Macau partnership subject of hearing

2 Feb 2007

By Howard Stutz

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Nevada gaming regulators have tentatively set Feb. 27 for a public hearing in Las Vegas to determine the suitability of MGM Mirage's partnership in an under-construction $1 billion hotel-casino in Macau.

Last year, MGM Mirage asked regulators to approve its 50-50 joint venture with Chinese businesswoman Pansy Ho, who had been granted a subconcession by the Macau government to develop and operate a hotel-casino in the gaming enclave. The MGM Grand Macau, which is expected to open by year's end, will have 600 rooms and a casino with 300 tables games and 1,000 slot machines.

Gaming regulators want to be assured about Pansy Ho's independence from her father, 84-year-old Chinese billionaire Stanley Ho. He owns several gambling halls in Macau, including the Lisboa Casino near the site of the MGM Grand Macau.

For years, Stanley Ho has fought allegations that his Macau casinos have been involved with organized crime triads engaged in money laundering, loan sharking, drug trafficking and prostitution. His sister, Winnie, has alleged the triads are involved in the casino.

Pansy Ho is the oldest of Stanley Ho's 17 children and has been reported to be the heir-apparent to her father's business holdings.

Last month, following an appearance in front of the Gaming Control Board, MGM Mirage Chairman Terry Lanni said he had no doubts about Pansy Ho's independence from her father.

"If I had any concern that she wasn't an independent person, then (the deal) wouldn't be where it is right now," Lanni said. "I have no concerns about that. I've known her about a dozen years and she's very independent and she's very tough. She's not an easy partner. She's a competent, bright, successful businesswoman."

Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said the three-member panel is preparing for its scheduled meeting Wednesday in Carson City. Afterward, it will take up the investigative report on Pansy Ho.

"Right now, we're holding open several dates," Neilander said. "But we have to complete our process. Board members may have questions that could mean we would have to delay things, but we won't know until we look at the findings."

Pansy Ho is expected to attend the hearing in front of Nevada gaming regulators. The control board would make a recommendation on her suitability, which would then be taken up by the Nevada Gaming Commission at a later date.

In 2005, published reports said New Jersey gaming regulators had begun looking at MGM Mirage's relationship with Pansy Ho. MGM Mirage co-owns the Borgata in Atlantic City with Boyd Gaming Corp.

Control Board sources said a year ago the agency was planning to ask MGM Mirage to file an application of suitability for the proposed Macau joint venture, but the company took the action itself to ward off being forced to comply with any formal request.

Because she is not operating a Las Vegas casino, Pansy Ho does not need a Nevada gaming license. However, under state gaming regulations, she can be considered for suitability.

Pansy Ho's subconcession is under the concession granted to her father, who owns the competing Macau casino and has been a controversial figure in Chinese business circles. Stanley Ho's business holdings include hotels, real estate, a ferry route, Macau's largest department store, an airline and a racetrack.

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