Denise Coates, above, a 51-year-old mother of four adopted children who was awarded a CBE in 2012. She banked a £265million salary, including dividends
Few major televised sporting events are complete without the glowering apparition of Cockney actor Ray Winstone enticing viewers – in menacingly geezerish tones – to take a punt on the action during commercial breaks.
The company he plugs, bet365, have never revealed how much this self-styled working-class hero pockets for persuading people to fritter away their hard-earned money (only in a ‘responsible’ manner, of course).
Yesterday, however, in their annual report, the Stoke-based firm was obliged to reveal the eye-watering amount paid last year to its founder and majority shareholder, Denise Coates CBE.
Astonishingly, this little-known woman – who more resembles a maths teacher than a gambling mogul, with her studious manner, staid outfits and soft Potteries brogue – banked £265million in salary and dividends, making her surely the best-paid female executive in Britain, and possibly the world.
Ms Coates, pictured with her father Peter, who is also a director of her betting company
To put this sum – paid from bet365’s £682.4m annual profit – into perspective, it is 1,300 times more than the amount earned by Theresa May, 9,500 times the average UK salary, and four times more than the FTSE 100’s top earner, housebuilding boss Jeff Fairburn, received. It is also £47m more than Miss Coates pocketed in the previous financial year.
Had this 51-year-old mother of four adopted children been so spectacularly rewarded for her achievements in many other fields of industry, her success would be a cause for celebration.
After all, having taken over the running of a handful of provincial bookmaker’s shops belonging to her father, soon after leaving university, she has transformed the business into ‘the world’s favourite online sports gambling company’ – to quote Winstone’s oft-repeated boast: a remarkable entrepreneurial feat.
We ought to admire the fact that Miss Coates conquered a traditionally male-dominated business by spotting the potential fortune to be made from internet gambling before far bigger players, such as Ladbroke and William Hill.
However, beyond the Stoke industrial park where bet365’s steel-and-glass HQ is located – the preponderance of sleek cars indicates the handsome rewards received by its other senior staff – there were few congratulatory words for Miss Coates yesterday.
Few major televised sporting events are complete without the glowering apparition of Cockney actor Ray Winstone, above, enticing viewers – in menacingly geezerish tones – to take a punt on the action during commercial breaks for bet365
Gambling addiction charities branded the size of her pay-packet – disclosed on the same day a report revealed 125,000 children aged between 11 and 16 are ‘problem gamblers’ or at risk of full-blown addiction – as disgraceful.
Luke Hildyard, director of the High Pay Centre, spoke for many when he said: ‘Why does someone who is already a billionaire need to take such an obscene amount of money out of their company?’
Why indeed. Last year, when investigating the background of this publicity-averse woman, I found some answers. The daughter of Stoke City chairman Peter Coates – a miner’s son who made his pile in the sports stadium catering business, and later became a major Labour donor – Miss Coates might appear to be a chip off her father’s socialist block.
As bet365 employs 3,000 people in a city struggling to overcome the decline of the ceramics industry, and has retained its primary offices there whilst competitors have relocated to offshore tax havens, she has been hailed as a local saviour: ‘the Patron of the Potteries’.
Her company also gives generously to various charities (though not nearly enough to those that help gambling addicts, according to critics). She is to be commended for providing a wonderful life for her adopted children from inauspicious backgrounds, whom she and her husband, her college sweetheart Richard Smith, brought into their home.
They have been raised in her converted Cheshire barn and privately educated.
Her family, she says, are her top priority. Yet the suggestion that she does not enjoy the fruits of her labour is wide of the mark. Not content with the luxurious £1.3m barn, which overlooks an L-shaped swimming-pool on her father’s sprawling estate, she has lately set about establishing her own pile in the nearby countryside.
During the summer of 2016, Miss Coates spent a smattering of her earnings – about £1.5m – on a mill-house beside a babbling brook. She gained planning permission to replace its fine old buildings with ‘a modern country estate’ featuring an artificial lake, sunken tennis courts, stables, ornamental gardens and workers’ cottages. She also splashed out hundreds of thousands on two adjacent plots.
Then there is her taste for flashy cars, such as her personal-plated Aston Martin DB9, and her family’s use of a helicopter to beat the North Midlands traffic.
How Denise Coates awarded herself a NINE-figure pay packet
Denise Coates bought the domain name bet365 on eBay in 2001 for £20,000 and began operating a dot.com betting business from a portable cabin in Stoke.
She is now the majority shareholder in Bet365, a global company which has benefited from tighter regulations on the industry in other countries.
The bulk of her pay increase was due to a jump the salaries her company decided to pay out this year. It increased overall wages from £490m to £646m.
The business said it had ‘increased remuneration for individuals that have been key to the development of the overarching corporate strategy’.
She then took a large share of the £90m paid out in dividends, £80m of which went to four directors of the company, which include Ms Coates.
Such peccadillos haven’t exactly endeared her to at least some of her neighbours.
One elderly woman told me how Miss Coates’ representatives had offered her an ‘enormous’ sum to persuade her to sell the farmhouse where her husband was born, and her family had lived for almost all their lives. She pointedly rejected it.
‘It seems that Denise Coates wants to be the lady of the manor around here, and with all that money she’s got, she must think she can buy anything,’ she said. Reflecting on the rising number of gambling addicts, she added: ‘I think the way she earns her money is immoral, disgraceful.’
I could understand her sentiments. The previous evening I had attended the weekly meeting of a group of Stoke gambling addicts, and listened to their heart-rending stories. Men such as George, a 38-year-old father-of-two who gravitated to online sites such as bet365 after playing fruit machines in his teens. He reckoned he had lost £750,000 in the past 20 years.
Though bet365 and other companies make much of their responsible gambling policy – which advises clients to gamble only what they can afford, resist ‘chasing their losses’, monitor the amount of time they spend playing, and suspend accounts if they fear they are developing a habit – this was not George’s experience.
Critics of the salary rise took to Twitter to day to express their anger. One called Coates’ payout ‘grotesquely obscene’
Others today accused Coates of ‘making millions for one and misery for many’, although some came to her defence
The betting mogul who founded Bet365 in a carpark
Denise Coates founded Bet365 in a car park in 2000 and has since grown it into a betting titan. Her brother and father John and Peter are also directors at Bet365.
She lives in a large £1.3million farmhouse in Stoke with her husband, Richard Smith, who also has a stake in Bet365 and serves as a director for Stoke City, which Bet365 owns.
The couple adopted four girls from the same family a few years ago and they also have a child of their own, but she had been described as ‘reclusive’ after keeping her home life well away from the limelight.
He claims to have continued receiving special offers and rewards for being a so-called ‘VIP client’ of various leading internet betting companies, though it is unclear whether this included bet365. In the throes of despair, he closed down his last account.
But George is among the lucky ones. He is still alive. A few months ago, Mail columnist Dominic Lawson spoke to the parents of some of the many online gambling addicts who committed suicide. The resulting article was truly harrowing.
Charles and Liz Ritchie – who attacked greedy gambling firms in yesterday’s Mail – told how their son, Jack, a 27-year-old history graduate, jumped to his death in Vietnam. He had been teaching English there but took his life in despair after losing thousands on online gambling sites.
There are many more such stories. Omair Abbas, 18, found dead in the River Ely, in Cardiff, after losing £5,000. Ryan Myers, a 27-year-old carpenter who was about to be married when he killed himself, apparently because he felt inextricably mired in gambling debt. Again, it is unclear whether any of these tragic young men were customers of bet365.
Results earlier this month show privately-held bet365 took an overall revenue of £2.72billion in the 12 months ending March 2018
But one can’t help but wonder whether Miss Coates stops to think about young men such as this when she is banking her astronomical pay-cheque. Being a caring family woman, we must assume that she does.
Of course, when she took over her father’s ‘small chain of pretty rubbish betting shops’, as she puts it, and began running them from a Portakabin, she cannot have foreseen that she would one day sit astride the world’s most lucrative online betting enterprise.
Nor can she have envisaged that a sizeable number of her company’s 22 million clients would become so hopelessly hooked on the product she developed that they would lose everything – their homes, jobs, marriages, and even their lives.
Yet given the mesmerising array of wagers offered by bet365 and its competitors, and the irresistible appeal of their adverts and inducements, there is an inevitability about the pernicious gambling addiction epidemic that now grips Britain. And for that, Miss Coates must surely bear her share of responsibility.
When building her empire, she says the defining moment came at the start of the millennium when she mortgaged the chain of betting shops to raise £15m, and used it to create a slick, sophisticated online business.
‘We were the ultimate gamblers, if you like,’ she recalled, several years ago in a rare interview.
For this unlikely tycoon, that gamble has paid off rather handsomely. Regrettably, for all too many of the punters who line her coffers, it has led only to the depths of despair.