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Bet365 boss’s £469m pay for 2020 takes earnings over £1bn in four years 01/04/21
Rob Davies
• Bumper package for Denise Coates comes as gambling firm reports fall in revenue

The boss of gambling website Bet365, Denise Coates, was paid nearly half a billion pounds in salary and dividends last year, as the latest in a string of record-breaking awards took her total pay since 2016 to nearly £1.3bn.

After an unusual delay in filing its accounts at Companies House, Bet365 revealed that its highest-paid director, understood to be Coates as chief executive, received £421m – or £48,000 every hour of every day throughout the 12-month period. In its accounts, the company said its pay arrangements were “appropriate and fair”.

Bet365 also paid a dividend of £95m, signalling a separate windfall of around £48m for Coates, who owns more than half of the empire she built out of her father Peter’s Stoke-on-Trent bookmaking business.

The deal is just the latest bumper package for Coates, who – together with Peter and her brother John – ranked 16th in last year’s Sunday Times rich list with a fortune of £7bn.

It is also likely to cement the family’s position as the UK’s largest taxpayers, contributing more than £500m a year when factoring in Bet365’s corporation tax.

But critics of excess pay and the gambling industry alike said it was hard to justify the scale of the rewards on offer to Coates.

“Of course rich people pay more tax, they have grossly disproportionate incomes,” said Luke Hildyard, the director of the High Pay Centre.

“What’s relevant is how much money they have after tax and in her case it’s more than anyone can spend in multiple lifetimes,” he said.

“It’s appallingly inefficient for single individuals to hoard wealth in this way when fairer systems of taxation could mean the wealth is instead used to support better public services or raise living standards for low- and middle-income earners.”

Coates paid herself £323m in 2019, including salary and dividends on her stake of more than 50% in the firm, based in Stoke-on-Trent. The pay packet, then a record for a UK chief executive, took her income over three years to £817m.

The new enhanced deal takes her pay and dividends since 2016 to nearly £1.3bn.

The Scottish National party MP Ronnie Cowan, a vocal advocate of tougher gambling regulation, acknowledged Coates’ hard work and success but added: “When the industry is creating so much harm in the community, when it is the most deprived areas that see the most damage and when the industry is in denial in regard to the damage it does, then salaries of this magnitude will always draw criticism.”

Bet365 reported an 8% fall in revenue to £2.81bn for the 52-week period ending 29 March 2020, partly due to the cancellation of sporting events as the Covid pandemic took hold last year, on top of the lack of a major football tournament during the period.

Operating profit fell by 74% to £194.7m, down from £758.3m in 2019, owing to the reduction in revenue but also as a result of a bumper pay rise for its four directors, only one of whom is not a Coates family member. The combined pay of the quartet leapt from £373m to £529m.

The company, which also owns Stoke City football club, will not publish results covering most of the pandemic period for at least another nine months, but it is likely to have done extremely well given the increase in online gambling seen at rival companies.

Coates has become Britain’s best-paid woman while building the Bet365 empire after recognising the power of internet gambling early on and pioneering hugely popular in-play bets on football, which has overtaken horse racing in popularity among gamblers.

She took the company from a small operation housed in a portable building in a Stoke car park to a globe-straddling multibillion-pound empire in the process.

Bet365 has repeatedly declined to give a breakdown of the geographical spread of its business, despite past allegations of offering bets in China, where it is illegal to do so.

In its accounts, Bet365 said disclosing regional income would be “severely prejudicial” to the group.

Ms Coates achieved a first-class degree in econometrics and later trained as an accountant within the family firm, building further on the knowledge of the then small chain that she picked up while working part-time during high school.