Billionaire Lawrence Ho, chairman and chief executive officer of Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd., in November 2016. (Photographer: Calvin Sit/Bloomberg)

For Melco Crown Entertainment Chairman and CEO Lawrence Ho, the year of the rooster presents great opportunities and great dangers. He’s a rare Hong Kong-based Macau casino owner that didn’t see his wealth rise on the Forbes’ Rich List published last month. That’s largely because Ho’s erstwhile partner, fellow son of a billionaire James Packer and his majority-owned Crown Resorts decided to sell off its 33.4% stake in Melco Crown Entertainment over the course of last year as part of creating a more narrowly focused company. The decision leaves Ho’s Hong Kong-listed Melco International as the majority owner of Melco Crown.

Ho, who turned 40 last month, now controls three listed companies in the Asian gaming space and has a chance for impact as never before and to position himself for suddenly hot regional opportunities, as well as going global well beyond the footsteps of his father, Macau gambling legend Stanley Ho.

Or it could all go wrong.

“Whatever it takes to win” 

This week in Tokyo, Ho pledged to spend “whatever it takes to win” a casino license in Japan. Speaking at the same conference, Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson reiterated that his company is ready to spend up to $10 billion USD on a Japan integrated resort, so the bar is high. Japan took the first step to legalize casinos in December, with a second bill to set the bidding rules expected later this year.

Another long-coveted Asian market, Vietnam moved toward allowing its citizens to play in local casinos last month. Ho’s original gaming company, Melco International, has a partnership to develop a casino resort on Cyprus and is interested another Mediterranean market, Spain. Ho vehicle Summit Ascent is a partner in a casino outside Vladivostok.

Analysts are divided 

Melco Crown owns City of Dreams and Altira in Macau and is the majority operating partner at Studio City, down the Cotai Strip from City of Dreams, and City of Dreams Manila. Its fourth quarter results amid rising tides in Macau and the Philippines--net revenue up 13% year on year to $1.2 billion USD and property Ebitda up 29% to $304 million USD–divided analysts.

Morgan Stanley’s Praveen Choudhary and Alex Poon see Studio City, opened 16 months ago and newly including VIP play, ramping up faster than projected and think the stock is undervalued. Union Gaming’s Grant Govertsen focuses on looming risks to the flagship City of Dreams from Steve Wynn’s new Wynn Palace, opened in August, and MGM Cotai opening later this year, both on City of Dreams’ doorstep. Buckingham Research Group’s Christopher Jones notes Melco Crown’s growth is driven by its joint venture properties, which gets to the heart of Lawrence Ho’s challenge.

Bold choices

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Melco Crown, itself conceived as a joint venture, works well with others. That trait will serve it well in Japan, where casino legislation is expected to include a local ownership requirement, dictating that foreigners take Japanese partners.

Like other Melco Crown Entertainment properties, Macau flagship City of Dreams ,with its new Zaha Hadid designed new Morpheus hotel at left, doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. Changing that is a key challenge for MCE Chairman and CEO Lawrence Ho. ( Photo credit: Calvin Sit/Bloomberg)

Operationally, Melco Crown has a number of different partners, often bold choices. City of Dreams includes top name hotels–Grand Hyatt remains the top business hotel in Macau, Crown Towers has outstanding service, Hard Rock rooms rank among that group’s best and Morpheus, a new hotel under construction, was designed by the late Zaha Hadid–retail concessionaire DFS, Franco Dragone’s spectacular House of Dancing Water and the locally-famous Club Cubic.

Studio City has a branch of global nightclub Pasha, Batman Dark Flight, Franz Harary’s House of Magic and Warner Bros Fun Zone. City of Dreams Manila features Michael Ault clubs Pangaea and Chaos plus DreamPlay, the world’s first DreamWorks interactive indoor adventure park.

Whether or not it’s a coincidence, Melco Crown’s property seem to add up to less than sum of their generally fantastic parts.

Too many parts? 

Last November, Melco Crown shook up its management, with longtime COO Ted Chan and top gaming executive Alidad Tash departing. Industry sources indicate a shifting toward a more property focused strategy. Ho said he would take a more hands on role in daily operations, perhaps providing the unifying vision his properties need.

With so many balls in the air, though he may be spreading himself thin. But imagine what he’ll have if he can make his empire’s whole greater than the sum of its parts.