Denise Coates, the billionaire founder and boss of gambling firm Bet365, paid herself £217m last year as her company made a £525m profit from a record £47bn of bets.
The 50-year-old, who started Bet365 in a Portakabin in a Stoke car park 17 years ago, is now the best-paid boss in Britain, dwarfing previous titleholder ad man Sir Martin Sorrell on £48m.
Coates’s £199,305,000 pay this year is more than 1,300 times that of the prime minister and more than double the wage bill of Stoke City, the PremierLeague club owned by Bet365. On top of the £199m, Coates collected £18m in dividend payments.
Coates started out as cashier, marking up results in a small number of betting shops owned by her father, Peter, as a sideline to his main business of football stadium catering.
After graduating with a first in econometrics – the application of statistical methods to economic data – from Sheffield University, she expanded the family’s Provincial Racing betting chain to nearly 50 shops.
As the millennium approached, Coates decided the future of betting lay online and she bought the Bet365.com domain on eBay for $25,000, a move that has catapulted her and her family up the UK’s wealth league.
Coates justified her pay packet as fair recognition for the “significant growth” in the firm’s gambling profits, which rose 15% to £514m. Revenue from gambling in the 2016-17 financial year jumped 39% to a record £2.15bn, according to the accounts filed at Companies House.
Bet365 customers wagered almost £47bn last year, up more than £10bn on the previous year. The company’s TV adverts are fronted by the actor Ray Winstone and are broadcast during many high-profile sporting events.
The leap in Bet365’s profits comes as the government and charities grow increasingly concerned about the number of lives ruined by gambling addiction.
Tracey Crouch, a minister at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has warned that as many as 600,000 Britons are “problem gambling”. The Gambling Commission, the industry regulator, has said two million people in the UK are either problem gamblers or at risk of addiction.
Mike Dixon, the chief executive of the charity Addaction, said: “It cannot be right that the CEO of a betting company is paid 22 times more than the whole industry ‘donates’ to treatment.
“The gambling industry is paying nowhere near enough for the treatment of gambling addicts. It means that there are a lot of people are not getting any help at all. It seems indefensible for the industry to be giving so little, when it is making so much money.”
A spokesman for campaign group Fairer Gambling said: “As losses from Britain’s gamblers continue to spiral out of control, so has executive pay. The entire gambling industry donated just £8m to research, education and treatment last year. If these companies can afford to pay their executives millions of pounds a year, there is no excuse for such chronically underfunded treatment services.”
In her statement to shareholders, Coates said: “[Bet365] recognises its responsibility to minimise gambling-related harm and to keep crime out of gambling.
“The group is committed to developing an evidence-based approach to responsible gambling. To this end, the group continues to work with research partners on a number of projects to improve its methods of identifying harmful play and deliver more effective harm-minimisation interventions.
“The group is assured that its efforts over the past year will continue to evolve over the coming months, and will make further progress in the prevention and minimisation of gambling-related harm.”
Even before the bumper pay day, Coates and her family were listed as the 22nd richest in Britain with a £5bn fortune – more than Sir Richard Branson with £4.9bn. Coates, who keeps out of the public eye, owns just over 50% of the company. Together with the rest of her family – including brother, John, a co-CEO; husband Richard Smith, a Stoke City director, and father Peter, the chairman of Stoke City – the Coateses own 93% of Bet365.
The company made a £50m donation to the Denise Coates Foundation, which mostly funds medical and education charities and, according to its latest accounts, has not made any donations to gambling or addiction charities.
Coates, who was awarded a CBE for services to the community and business five years ago, has become known as the “patron of the Potteries” for her decision to continue to base Bet365 in Stoke, where it is the largest private sector employer.
“We mortgaged the betting shops and put it all into online,” she said in a rare interview with the Guardian in 2012. “We knew the industry required big startup costs but … we gambled everything on it. We were the ultimate gamblers if you like.”
She lives quietly in a farmhouse in Sandbach, just outside of Stoke, but drives an Aston Martin with personalised number plates.