A piece in yesterday’s Times:
For anyone considering their odds of beating the house when gambling on the online betting behemoth Bet365, the payout given to its co-founder this year should give them pause for thought.
Denise Coates, 53, the joint chief executive of her family company, is understood to have been paid a record £421 million last year, taking her total pay over the past four years to more than £1.2 billion. That pay cheque, thought to be a record for the boss of a British company, comes from the pockets of an awful lot of punters who tried to beat her odds and failed.
For the year to March the privately owned gambling company, based in Stoke-on-Trent, paid that amount to its highest-paid director, who is understood to be Coates. The gargantuan payout excludes her share of a £95 million dividend, more than half of which in previous years is thought to have gone to Coates, who is a majority shareholder. Her pay is thought to be approaching the combined total of what all FTSE 100 bosses were paid last year.
The mean of chief executive pay across almost all the FTSE 100 was £4.7 million, according to the latest report by the High Pay Centre.
Much of Coates’s fortune is said to be put towards good causes, including Douglas Macmillan Hospice and Alzheimer’s Research UK. In the past few years she has been building a 52-acre “modern country estate”, designed by Lord Foster of Thames Bank’s company, which specialises in giant commercial projects such as Kuwait airport. The project managers for her estate built the gates for the New Panama Canal in 2016.
Coates was named Britain’s highest taxpayer by this year’s Sunday Times Tax List. The share of Bet365’s taxes, plus HM Revenue and Customs’ charges on her pay and dividends, was £573 million in 2019-20.
She was considered a local girl made good who helped schools and charities with generous donations when she lived in a barn conversion that was fairly modest considering her wealth. That all changed in 2017 when she started acquiring country houses and farmland not far from Stoke to build a private estate, which includes an enormous glass “statement house”. She can look over an artificial lake and boathouse, and can travel to a sunken tennis court, summer house, estate keeper’s cottage, gatehouse, stables and manège, in a landscaped park. Two-metre high fences are guarded by 24-hour security.
Coates’s latest pay packet tops her previous record when she paid herself a £277 million salary and about £46 million in dividends for 2019, and also eclipses the £343 million paid to the hedge fund manager Sir Chris Hohn last year. That was believed to be the highest annual amount ever paid to an individual in modern Britain.
Coates gained a first-class degree in econometrics at Sheffield University, where she met her husband, Richard Smith. The couple have five children. Having noticed the spread of gambling on the internet, she mortgaged her father’s modest betting shop business in 2001 and moved its activities online.
The company has acknowledged that it takes bets from “grey markets”, untaxed or unregulated jurisdictions where profit margins are higher, but it will not say if these include China. It has gambling licences in 14 countries, including the US and Australia.
Luke Hildyard, director at the High Pay Centre, which campaigns on excessive executive pay, said that a payment of hundreds of millions of pounds had “questionable value as an incentive to somebody already worth billions”.
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