1929 in Jiangmen, China
Post-second world war: Begins business in construction materials
1950s: Establishes K Wah in Hong Kong
1960s: Launches investments in Hong Kong property
1980s: Becomes hotel developer
1982: Awarded MBE by UK
1990s: Takes businesses into mainland China
2002: Wins gaming concession in Macau and creates Galaxy Entertainment
2014: Becomes Asia’s second-richest person
Golf, Chinese calligraphy
Married, with five children and 12 grandchildren
It has brought public attention to this unassuming octogenarian, especially when
Bloomberg elevated him to the top of the Asian rich list by mistake.
This personal wealth “hasn’t changed my life”, he says. “I work hard, I eat fish balls
and noodles. I drink coffee and tea from a street vendor. I am quite casual about
personal wealth, life hasn’t changed at all.”
Mr Lui, who always sports a flat cap, is not himself much of a gambling man. His
hobbies are golf and Chinese calligraphy; he says he needs about five hours of sleep a
night, spends a lot of time catching up on the news and weighs up a business decision
four or five times before reaching an outcome.
The only gaming activity he owns up to is mah-jong, certainly not baccarat, the card
game beloved of the Chinese high rollers that is driving astonishing growth for all of
the six casino operators in Macau.
Born in Jiangmen in Guangdong province, southern China, he is something of an
accidental gambling magnate. His family left for Hong Kong in the mid-1930s.
Two images from the second world war left an indelible impression. Near his home,
he saw a couple of dozen corpses. “They did not die because of sickness or anything
but because of hunger. I remember that and how people suffered,” he says.
He also recalls seeing a moment of cannibalism in wartime Hong Kong. He was 12 or
13 at the time.
Out of the wreckage of war came his first wealth – from the import of construction
materials abandoned by American forces on the Japanese island of Okinawa. From
this was created K Wah, a conglomerate of construction, property and hotels
These included the Stanford hotel chain in the US, but the main wealth was derived
from the acquisition of land and the construction of luxury complexes mainly in
Hong Kong and Shanghai. It listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange in the 1980s.
And then came Macau. When in 2002 the Chinese government opened up the
gambling market on the former Portuguese colony, Mr Lui took advantage and was
awarded one of the six prized gaming concessions.
He was 73, an untypical age to start a career as a gambling baron. “At the very
beginning I actually felt a bit nervous. I didn’t have much experience in gaming,” he
“Terrible story,” says the billionaire in a rare venture into English, a smile across his
face that is full of sadness and experience. “You don’t forget.”
“Obviously I knew it was a great opportunity but I wasn’t expecting something as big
as right now, what we see in Macau.”
He describes the Las Vegas operators who descended on Macau, the likes of Sheldon
Adelson and Steve Wynn, as “good friends” who respect each other and are part of a
“harmonious competitive environment”.
It is a sign of Macau’s astonishing growth that Galaxy after 12 years is worth 20 times
more than K Wah’s property arm by market capitalisation. The Lui family are 51 per
cent shareholders in Galaxy, which has six gambling emporiums. It had sales of
HK$57bn in 2012, up more than a third on the previous year, and net profit of
The company’s flagship is the HK$16.5bn (US$2.1bn) Galaxy Macau, a casino and
hotel resort on the island’s Cotai strip which has six big cupolas adorned in 24-carat
gold. It took five years to build.
With 2,260 rooms, a swimming pool that generates 1.5-metre waves, an artificial
beach and, most importantly, 1,500 slot machines and 450 gaming tables, it handles
30,000 people daily.
This, though, is what Galaxy calls “phase one” of the resort. Phase two will double the
resort size. It opens next year. “And we are hoping to start phase three and four very
soon,” says Mr Lui. “It should be quite fast.”
While Mr Lui does not himself enjoy a flutter, he acknowledges the Chinese fondness
for gambling. “It seems to be a habit about Chinese people,” he says.
He talks about casino opportunities on the neighbouring island of Hengquin, in
Japan, Taiwan and other parts of Asia, depending on the willingness of governments
to open up their gambling markets. He hopes Macau’s development will not be
hindered by labour supply problems and that the Chinese government will bring in
more workers. After all, the tax take that Beijing gets from Galaxy is “quite
Key to the development of Galaxy’s gambling plans is the growth of the “mass
market” of players, as opposed to the high rollers or “VIP market” that drive up the
profits of all operators. He wants to develop more leisure and hospitality facilities to
complement the gaming activity, “diversifying gaming into a more complete tourism
product”, he says. “We are planning shopping, hotel and sports facilities. With this
development of the mass markets into Macau, more families can come.”
Mr Lui recognises the pace of progress in China and its impact on Chinese society but
does not necessarily like it.
“When thinking about the Chinese, we talk about morals, we talk about ambition, we
talk about happiness within a family and then within yourself,” he says.
“Nowadays people are competing really fiercely and it’s people fighting for money.
We should go back to the education system. Maybe in China there should be more
subjects about morals and how people should look for happiness within themselves
rather than from others.”
An admirable moral code, but it does not exactly sit squarely with Macau, the lure of
gambling and the business of Galaxy Entertainment. He responds that maybe
gambling in the past was “not a good thing” and that Galaxy promotes responsible
People are “becoming informed about learning not to spend all one’s fortune on
gambling but to look at it more as an entertainment”, says Mr Lui. “The future of
gambling is as an entertainment business.”