Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Updated: Demise of Malaysian casino king

Legendary Malaysian businessman Lim Goh Tong, 90, passed away today. The founder of the Genting empire will always be known in history as the man who secured the sole casino licence in predominantly Muslim Malaysia in the 1960s. It's definitely no easy feat for him to retain the license in a country that has becomingly increasingly Islamic. No new casino or gaming license will ever be issued again in the country as Islam forbids gambling.

Oddly, the late Chinese tycoon celebrated his birthday this year. Although he didn't have formal education, he was quite spiritual. He was the founder of the Chin Swee Temple (pix from the Genting website) near the more famous casino at Genting Highlands.

Goh Tong had turned Genting into a global name, with the help of his second son Kok Thay and other family members. They will continue to make Genting a bigger gaming company in the world.

Unfortunately, he won't be around to witness the next big thing -- the group's S$5-billion bet to build an integrated resort with casino called Resorts World at Sentosa in Singapore by 2010 or 2011. It will be one of Singapore's first two casinos following the lifting of a 40-year ban.

The Singapore project could even eclipse the Malaysian casino one day.

Below is an abridged profile of the late casino tycoon by Bloomberg. Additional reading and viewing -- The Star coverage, New Straits Times, The Genting Story, The Lim family of Genting and other news reports.

Genting Founder Lim Goh Tong Dies at 90 After Illness (Update1)
By Stephanie Phang

Oct. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Lim Goh Tong, who built a hilltop casino in Malaysia and turned it into Asia's biggest publicly traded gaming company, died today. He was 90.

The founder of Kuala Lumpur-based Genting Bhd. and Malaysia's third-richest person, died peacefully after a short illness, his grandson, Justin Leong, said by phone.

Lim, who started out selling vegetable seeds in China, built Malaysia's only licensed casino, risking his life and facing bankruptcy along the way. He created what is now Malaysia's eighth-largest listed company, with interests in gaming, hotels and cruise lines from the U.K. to Hong Kong.

The Genting group is constructing Singapore's second gaming resort and includes Resorts World Bhd., which operates the casino in Malaysia. The combined stock market value of the assets, including interests in oil palm plantations and property, surpasses $22 billion, according to the company.

Lim was born in the mountainous Anxi county in China's Fujian province. He was named after the parasol tree, considered auspicious among Chinese, by his maternal grandfather, who hoped the name would bring him good fortune, Lim said in his 2004 autobiography. Forbes in May put his wealth at $4.3 billion.

Lim, who didn't speak English and had no knowledge of engineering, also ventured into mining and construction. His experience "and a little layman common sense'' helped him succeed, he wrote in his autobiography.

Enjoying the cool mountain air of a hill station while working on a hydroelectric project in 1963, Lim came up with the idea of building a hilltop resort nearer to Malaysia's capital of Kuala Lumpur. The plan stunned friends and fellow contractors, who warned Lim, then 45 and a successful businessman, against it.

"The Genting project basically fitted my idea of an ideal business,'' Lim wrote. "No one was interested in it, which meant no competition. I took the plunge against all odds and held on steadfastly.''

He spent seven years developing Genting, laying a road and building a hotel on a 1,800-meter (5,900-foot) hill outside the city. Failing to lure others to join, Lim invested all his money in the project without getting any returns in the seven years it took to build.

"At one stage, I was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy,'' he wrote.

Lim had support from the government of Malaysia, which gained independence from British rule in 1957. The Malaysian government permitted him to pursue the project and subsidized the road. It also gave Genting a casino license, renewable every quarter, and a six-year tax break for the resort business.

During construction, Lim almost lost his life at least six times from falling trees, driving mishaps and a landslide, according to his autobiography.

Genting, which means "atop the clouds'' in Mandarin, is a complex of hotels, themed casinos, amusement parks, shops and restaurants. The resort attracts more than 18 million visitors a year.

"Besides being a tremendous individual achievement, Lim's success in developing Genting Highlands from virgin jungle into a world-class resort reflects Malaysia's economic progress in the last four decades,'' former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said in his foreword to the tycoon's biography. "Even without the advantages of higher education, he has proven that nothing is impossible.''

Lim married Lee Kim Hua in 1944. They had three daughters, three sons and 19 grandchildren, according to his biography. His second son, Lim Kok Thay, is Genting's chief executive officer.

Kok Thay succeeded his father as president and CEO in 2002, before becoming chairman in December 2003. Genting needed to become a "global corporation,'' Kok Thay said when he replaced his father as chairman in 2003.


angeline said...

sobs...he will be remembered in our history..

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