Casino Heiress Plays Reuters

Wire-service puff piece serves subject, not readers

Reuters crapped out with a recent, unaccountably flattering profile of Pansy Ho, a major player in the international casino business and daughter of Hong Kong billionaire Stanley Ho.

To an unsuspecting Reuters reader, the January 26 article looks like another fluffy and forgettable feature—perhaps a bit more obsequious than usual—of the variety used by reporters the world over to insinuate themselves into a potential source’s good graces. It profiles the daughter of a billionaire businessman, trying to carve her own niche out of her father’s gambling empire. Fine.

But there’s a problem here. Ho is under investigation by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission for her ties to, well, her shady father. But Reuters’ story reads as if it’s in denial, like a pensioner at the Wheel of Fortune slots.

It’s bad from the get-go. “Macau mogul’s daughter is no daddy’s girl,” says the headline. Here’s the lead paragraph:

Sure, being the daughter of Macau’s casino king has had its perks. But Pansy Ho—gaming magnate, property tycoon, budding airline mogul and up-and-coming heir apparent to ageing father Stanley Ho’s multi-billion-dollar gaming empire—has perhaps had more to prove as a result of that kinship.

The article continues:

Pansy Ho remains close to her father—he joined her on stage at the opening of the MGM Grand—but the younger Ho seemed to want to shake the perception she’s “daddy’s girl”, finding that sometimes tough.

The three-year-long New Jersey investigation is one reason she might want to distance herself from her father, who’s widely reported to have mob ties. Here is James Fallows in The Atlantic last September:

The New Jersey Casino Control Commission is now considering whether one of its licensees, MGM Mirage, can enter a partnership with one of Ho’s daughters, Pansy Ho. The decision will turn on whether Pansy Ho, whose reputation is otherwise positive, can prove that she is wholly independent of her father’s influence.

The article notes that Nevada and Mississippi’s regulators have approved Ho. But New Jersey is widely considered to have stricter standards when it comes to letting mob-connected gambling companies into the state (insert joke here). MGM Mirage wants to build a $5 billion casino complex in Atlantic City.

Major papers already dropped the ball on reporting the investigation three months ago, as The Audit pointed out then.

The Reuters piece does mention the New Jersey investigation, but it’s in the twentieth paragraph of a twenty-two-graph story:

When [Pansy Ho] applied for approval from Nevada and Mississippi for the MGM venture, regulators were said to have paid extra scrutiny to who she was, the daughter of a self-made billionaire who local media say is linked to organized crime—a charge never confirmed. New Jersey is still investigating.

The next paragraph tosses aside the New Jersey investigation with:

Whatever the case, Pansy Ho remains one of the most accomplished members of the Ho clan…. At the MGM’s gala opening, the notoriously hard-to-please man appeared proud of his daughter—and that’s something, she said.

“It’s actually in a way unfair that he has to be brought into the picture in all this,” she said in a group interview.

“Whatever the case”? Audit readers, the question of whether a business figure is “accomplished” because of her connection to criminal activity is not a detail. If crime lies behind one’s accomplishments, one really isn’t “accomplished” at all in the normal sense of that word. That’s a cringe-worthy close to a poorly reported story by Reuters.

The New Jersey Casino Control Commission very well may clear Ho, but it hasn’t yet. Given that Reuters clearly hasn’t done an investigation here, it should steer clear of bolstering a claim that is so transparently self-interested, with billions of dollars at stake.

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Elinore Longobardi is a Fellow and staff writer of The Audit, the business-press section of Columbia Journalism Review.