In the early 1960s when Stanley Ho founded STDM, Macau was little more than a fishing village. The group gradually expanded to become the territory's largest business group and leading job provider and in doing so it helped to transform Macau into a modem city. Starting in the gambling business, STDM soon extended into other areas such as hotel management, entertainment, travel and transport.
The company defends its monopolist position in the gambling sector by arguing that for years STDM was the only significant company able to attract capital to Macau from outside.
Today, the company is faced with the challenge of adapting to a more competitive era. The liberalisation of the gaming industry was announced in 1999 and although details of the transition have not been finalised, it is generally assumed that STDM will have a grace period of two to three years to adapt to the new open market conditions.
The company is well prepared for the new phase and is not afraid of the competition, says Ms Julie de Senna Fernandes, Stanley Ho's public relations director. Ho himself said so recently, although he did lobby for an extension of the status quo.
STDM employs some 10,000 people, 6,000 of whom are casino staff, most of them croupiers. Some will no doubt be poached by the competition but Fernandes does not expect many senior managerial departures, since most of them have been working for Ho for many years and are loyal to the tycoon who will be 80 this year.
The unfriendliness of Macau croupiers is well known and the company as a whole has plenty of scope to improve its customer-responsiveness in the various service sectors in which it operates. In preparation for the new times, STDM has set up a training centre for the new croupiers, trying to attract high school or even college graduates. However, it is not retraining senior staff.
For many years, the Portuguese colonial government had very close contacts with STDM – hardly surprising since the gaming tax accounts for more than 50 percent of annual government revenue. The new SAR government has tried to reduce this dependency but is aware that changing course can only be done gradually.
Combined with gambling, tourism represents 40 percent of Macau's gross domestic product and STDM is also heavily present in this area, owning or managing more than 60 percent of the enclave's five-star hotel rooms, which include the Hotel Lisboa, the Mandarin Oriental and the Westin Resort and Golf and Country Club, the only hotel in the vicinity that offers an 18-hole international standard golf course.
Nearly a quarter of the working population is employed by the tourism and entertainment industry. It is a particularly important source of employment for low-skilled workers whose prospects have been dampened in recent years by the stagnant state of the construction industry.
The only major project currently under way, scheduled for completion this summer, is the Macau Tower. The 10th tallest in the world in this tiny enclave with few other tall buildings, the tower is symbolic of the imbalances in Macau's economy.