Five years ago, he announced a US$1.3b plan to develop “the world’s most luxurious casino resort” in Macau, three years ago he redefined luxury spending when he ordered 30 Rolls-Royces, today his dream resort is neither open nor even in possession of a casino licence.
Stephen Hung, 58, was born to a family that made billions from property deals.
In 2012, he married Deborah Valdez, a former fashion model from Mexico. Valdez is the owner and chairman of Dreamodels, one of the most exclusive modelling agencies in Asia and Europe.
The flamboyant Hong Kong-born billionaire with an affinity for dyed floppy hair and his wife, who bears a resemblance to legendary actress Audrey Hepburn, took the world of the rich and famous by storm.
Hung, who has a thing for 17th-century French aristocracy, called his casino property Louis XIII. He even sent a battalion of butlers to Paris for training and appointed a direct descendant of King Louis XIII, Her Royal Highness Princesse Tania de Bourbon Parme, to advise on French luxury.
He also has a penchant for diamond-encrusted Rolls-Royces, and was dubbed “the world’s biggest spender” for his order of 30 Rolls-Royce cars for Louis XIII.
All painted in ‘Stephen Red’, it was then the world’s biggest single fleet of custom-built gold and diamond-sprinkled Rolls-Royce Phantoms. The US$20 million order was delivered to Hung last year.
He renamed Louis XIII ‘The 13’, and since then his fortune has taken a plunge.
Superstitious or not, The 13, is still neither open nor even in possession of a casino licence.
The 13 Holdings Limited, which is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and of which Hung is joint chairman, recently warned that building delays and a lack of cash had cast “significant doubt on the group’s ability to continue as a going concern”.
The company’s latest results revealed that its liabilities exceeded its assets by HK$300m.
A further HK$951 million in capital commitments had not yet been provided for.
It sold a 52 percent stake in what was its engineering subsidiary, Paul Y. The subsidiary built The 13 and accounted for much of the holding company’s revenue last year when it made a HK$40m net loss.
It was all a far cry from the heady days of 2012 when he announced his ambitious project.
China’s nouveau riche were the target market back then when it seemed the golden taps were jammed open and The 13 had an opportunity to become a conduit for the new-found wealth flooding out of the country.
Then, the game changed.
Two years after Hung unveiled his project, President Xi Jinping arrived in Macau to lead celebrations marking 15 years since the former Portuguese enclave returned to Chinese sovereignty.
Xi delivered the unmistakable message that the cash-rich VIP clients The 13 had been targeting were no longer to be indulged. And as part of Beijing’s already wide-ranging crackdown on graft, the president said Macau’s future lay in diversifying its economy away from VIP gaming, which had historically made up the vast bulk of the city’s gaming revenue.
In short, all bets were off.
In The 13 Holdings’ latest annual report, its chief executive Walter Craig Power offered a yet more sobering perspective.
“The global economy continues to face political uncertainties while growth in mainland China and the US is rebounding cautiously,” he said.
He also noted that “China will be holding its 19th Party Congress later this year during which important decisions will be made in respect of the pace of continued reform of the Chinese economy.”
The future of The 13 is, at best, uncertain.
Perhaps Lady Luck will work her magic and deliver Hung from his current predicament.
On the other hand, maybe she won’t.
What’s for sure is, it’s a gamble.