Meet Denise Coates: Online Sportsbetting CEO Who Earned £323 Million in 2019

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December 3rd, 2020
Back Meet Denise Coates: Online Sportsbetting CEO Who Earned £323 Million in 2019

What ensues when an iGaming businesswoman remains true to her upbringing and opens to newfound opportunities? A successful endeavor with a lot of moving parts. Let’s pay her a visit.

A zinger. That’s probably the appropriate word to introduce an outstanding person behind a striking headline remark. The profiling journey through the life of Ms. Denise Coates CBE paints the business picture of the online gambling industry, what it takes to create an iGaming giant, and how the world’s best-paid female boss’ remuneration stirred up public opinion.

The frame of such a painting consists of a fiercely private woman’s vision and determination to utilize the propelling popularity of interactive sportsbetting on the heels family legacy, dovetailed with conservatives’ outcries and critiques oriented toward United Kingdom’s elites.

The substance used for decorative edging, though, entirely fits the lyrics of Coldplay, one of the most cherished England’s bands: “Every chance that you get is a chance you seize.”

Equally so, the canvas’ material closely resembles a sentence written by Brian Bagnall in his book Commodore: A Company on the Edge: “High-tech companies need three players in order to succeed: A financier, a technology god, and a juggernaut with a Type-A personality.”

Well…

Ms. Coates, co-founder and joint chief executive officer of bet365, most certainly check on all those boxes — and a few more — which makes her astonishing success on par with all business persons’ goals or online gamblers’ wishes, anywhere in the world.

In all earnest and full disclosure, if we were to ask would either of us could have done it better or differently to receive such a massive jackpot, in all likelihood, most of us would say no.

So, who is Ms. Denise Coates?

Hard-Working Staffordshire Roots

An exceptionally secluded person, to begin with.

Although the internet is saturated with regurgitating articles reflecting on her 2019 salary, Ms. Coates — the second or the fifth wealthiest woman in the UK, depending on the source — mostly declines face-to-face interviews preferring email correspondence instead.

She’s virtually non-existent on social networks, keeping an ultra-low profile.

As she explained to The Guardian back in 2012: “I really don’t enjoy the attention. The public side does not come naturally to me.”

Still…

Bit of crumbs left here and there were enough to put together a rather telling profile.

To understand the relentless drive behind Ms. Coates, one should probably get back a few pages in her life’s book, looking for a character named Peter Coates, that is, her father.

He was born into poverty in 1938 in Stoke-on-Tent, the cradle of the pottery industry in England, a former industrial conurbation, and the birthplace of Lemmy and Robbie Williams.

As the youngest of fourteen children, Peter — a son of World War One miner and mother who died when he was two — began his career as an early teenager to help his family keep the wolf from the door.

Inheriting his father’s avid interest in football, Peter played as an amateur for several local clubs. Admittingly “not quite good enough,” he hung up his boots at the age of twenty-three.

Upon finishing his conscription service at the Parachute Regiment, he worked in a restaurant chain and rose to the regional manager position.

Using such a background, he founded Stadia Catering specializing in food and drink experiences at soccer grounds. His entrepreneurial venture soon merged with a competitor — Lindley Catering — paving the way for a substantial revenue increase.

Around this time, in 1967…

Denise was born as the eldest of his two children; her brother and the future business partner John is three years younger.

In 1974, Peter Coates bought a chain of betting shops and branded his new establishment Provincial Racing. At the time of purchase, a network consisted of only a few retail outlets; numerous acquisitions later, it grew to as many as fifty-nine parlors.

Remaining as chair of Lindley Catering and while running day-to-day operations of Provincial Racing, Peter also founded an independent local radio station, Signal 1, in 1983.

Staying true to his football passion, he purchased a majority stake in Stoke City FC, his favorite club, in 1989. He served as the chair until he sold his shares in 1999, only to repurchase them back in 2006, remaining as the club’s chairman to this day.

Why all of this matters?

It shows an indelible pattern ingrained in the Coates household’s DNA: Sports, entrepreneurship, hard work, grit, growth despite adversity, a healthy dose of luck.

When the time came for Peter to pass the baton to his daughter, such a fecund pedigree provided seminal foundations of the future empire.

Leave It to Econometrics Mastermind

By the age of twenty-three, Ms. Denise Coates has graduated with a first-class degree — the highest achievement honors one might attain — from the University of Sheffield.

Her college education revolved around “the branch of economics concerned with [using] mathematical methods (especially statistics) in describing economic systems.”

Even as a teenager and throughout her studies, Ms. Coates worked as a cashier in Provincial Racing.

Upon receiving her degree, she became the operating manager who considered retail shops ripe for improvement. For a good reason: The venture had been struggling for years.

Reminiscing on working by her side throughout the 1990s…

Her brother John mentioned in one of the very few interviews he acquiesced to how quickly she caught on the rise of online betting, stating he heard Ms. Coates repeatedly noting “this is what we’re going to do.”

By January 2000, she was the managing director of a family-run company for the last five years.

In that timeframe, she took a significant loan from Barclays to acquire a neighboring competitor, righting the Provincial Racing ship while keeping her proactive hand on the wheel of steady but modest growth.

In the same month, fully convinced in the interactive future of the sportsbetting business, Ms. Coates purchased a bet365 domain name for £10,000 from eBay — and decided to go all-in.

Unique timing is fascinating.

As the internet was taking off, William Hill and Ladbrokes — sportsbetting colossi — were somewhat hesitant to enter the online arena. A few existing digital bookmakers already present on the market were accepting wagers on horse and greyhounds racing, the major US leagues, and the most prominent European soccer competitions in Italy, Germany, and Spain.

Ms. Coates thought more comprehensive services and significantly versatile offerings were in order.

The first person to convince was her brother John, with whom today she jointly shares the CEO position. He took a bit of prodding, as he already worked as an attorney, but he eventually gave in to her enthusiasm and commitment.

Soon enough, though…

Ms. Coates realized how steep the climb was, particularly regarding the money necessary to properly develop and launch the website. Lacking such significant funds, she pitched the idea to several capital investors in London who flatly turned her down.

Unfazed but in dire need of a massive influx of cash, Ms. Coates turned to her family, as only a few months earlier, her father had sold his shares in Stoke City FC for £3.5 million.

Equally impressed by her determination as her brother, Peter decided to step in and help: They took a massive £15 million loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland, putting up all Provincial Racing retail shops as collateral.

As Ms. Coates reflected on this move years later:

“We mortgaged the betting shops and put it all into online. We knew the industry required big startup costs [and] we gambled everything on it. We were the ultimate gamblers if you like.”

‘You Start a 24/7 Business, and You Work 24/7’

Working relentlessly from a portable building installed on a parking lot of a retail shop — or at a Portakabin adjacent to the family residence, depending on the source — Ms. Coates took revolutionary steps to stand out among the competition.

She decided to maintain physical shops enabling bettors to visit the new-founded company in person, which was paramount considering other interactive hubs operated from abroad. She made the United Kingdom origins of bet365 visible to all visitors, making it one of the unique selling proposals.

Deeming bettors’ experience and retention paramount to overall success, she incorporated premier customer service and relationship management principles.

Ms. Coates considered innovation and trusted gambling operations as cornerstones of her future empire. By implementing progressive in-play and other options to the website — the practice continues to this day through enticing distribution agreements, as the most recent one with Playtech shows — and by avoiding shady perception, she decisively shaped bet365 into what it is today.

(Editor’s note: Several improprieties popped up in the last couple of years, ranging from accepting Chinese bettors and misleading advertisements to denying payments to punters in Ireland and Australia. As bet365 is licensed and regulated by the Government of Gibraltar and the UK Gaming Commission, such instances stand in contrast to early beginnings. However, the company keeps those serious issues to a minimum, as their 4.6/5 ratings at LCB indicate.)

Most importantly…

Ms. Coates expanded bet365 offerings to an unprecedented level.

Nowadays, it is standard to have an extensive wagering menu; twenty years ago, it was a novelty.

Thus, a groundbreaking content — European leagues in football, basketball, hockey, Formula One, motorsports, athletics, boxing, rugby, cycling, tennis, snooker, NASCAR, golf, major American sports, you get the picture — represented a treasure trove for worldwide interactive bettors.

In 2004, the company also integrated table games — poker, blackjack, roulette, baccarat — onto their website, making it a one-stop-shop for online punters. Bingo joined the club several years later.

Such a push left quite a mark on Ms. Coates’ work-life balance. Never shy to go full-bore, she explained those times in a few words:

“You start a 24/7 business, and you work 24/7. When you’re not in the office, you take calls in the middle of the night, regularly — that’s how the early days were.”

The ultimate gamble soon paid off.

In 2005, less than four years after the 2001 launch, bet365 stood tall among the very few behemoths in the online sportsbetting market.

As revenues kept pouring in through various streams, the family decided to sell Provincial Racing retails shops for £40 million, allowing them to pay off the loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The rise was nothing short of spectacular ever since.

You Earn Too Much, Really

From the modest beginnings and twelve employees, the company grew into the premier location for over 53 million punters, headquartered in bespoke premises at Stoke-on-Tent, employing more than 5,000 people worldwide.

According to Forbes, bet365 nowadays facilities close to £49 billion in bets a year (more than $65 billion).

The online hub is also a prominent player in the responsible gambling area.

It implements various on-site measures regarding early detection and identification of high-risk gamblers, including separate, purpose-made subdomain. In addition to in-house training already in place — concerning technology, operations, and media — the company also educates specialist customer-facing staff in motivational strategies for encouraging players to take proactive steps in controlling gambling addiction.

(Editor’s note: In 2019, jointly with Flutter, GVC, Sky Betting, and William Hill, bet 365 committed to funding a £100 million package aimed at “creating a safer gambling environment and expanding treatment for problem gamblers in the UK” by 2023, working closely with the Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport.)

But…

When Ms. Denise Coates gave herself an annual salary of £323 million in 2019 — more than $423 million in remuneration and dividends — the internet exploded.

BBC ran the article quoting “cynical timing, sneaked out straight after a general election campaign where excess wealth, taxes on the rich, and the vast gap between those at the top and everybody else have been key issues.”

Others pointed out gambling revenues and “obscene” sums executives pay themselves at the behest of unlucky players. Twittersphere comments and outcries included notions like “families she has helped to destroy” and “make money from ruining lives,” to mention only a few most stinging ones.

Forbes deemed such a salary move as “controversial.”

However…

Even with our devil’s advocate’s dress full-on — comes with the territory of any profiling or investigative piece — it seems far more likely that Ms. Coates’ salary reflects on stratospheric popularity of interactive sportsbetting and online gambling than anything else.

Merely put, punters love to place bets and play games. Unfortunately, not all of them successfully negotiate luck and knowledge necessary to prevail in a reputable hub.

If nothing else, financial figures of bet365 and the personal income of Ms. Coates reflect on myriad improvements in skills, discernment, and responsibility the players — all of us, that is — still have to attain to become better and beat the house.

Besides, Ms. Coates has been earning hundreds of millions of British pounds for the last three years.

Ever since she took home almost £200 million in 2016, she was in the spotlight of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world.

So, was Ms. Coates deserving of such a stir up in public opinion? Most likely not.

Etiquette of Class and Appreciation

She was appointed CBE — Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire — for services in the community and business in 2012.

Aside from ranking #383 on the Forbes list of 2,095 wealthiest billionaires in 2020, Ms. Coates is a married woman and a mother to five children.

Four of those came through adoption from the same family in 2012.

(Editor’s note: One might argue that bringing up a child of another person as one’s own is among the noblest acts to undertake, regardless of reasons. To take four voluntarily might point out to sublime awareness on what separation do to siblings; if the volume was mandatory — not uncommon thing in these cases — it quietly speaks on the modest determination of the Coates couple to give back to those in need.)

In the same year…

She established the Denise Coates Foundation, which provides funding for charitable projects in health and wellbeing, education and training, medical research, disaster recovery, emergency relief, community development, arts, and cultures. (In 2014, the Foundation’s donation budget was over of £100 million.)

In 2019, she was inducted into the SBC’s Sports Betting Hall of Fame.

In April 2020, amid the devastating impact of the global pandemic, Ms. Coates and her father donated £10 million to University Hospitals of North Midlands Trust — which incorporates Royal Stoke Hospital and County Hospital in Stafford — to combat Coronavirus.

Indeed…

Such altruistic moves and ensuing recognitions don’t require additional explanations. We’ll leave the overall conclusion as an exercise to our readers.

One or two things do remain, though.

Ms. Coates built her empire by digging deep. She didn’t strive to expand bet365 in a wide area of endorsed brands. Instead, she kept fine-tuning and perfecting a monolithic business structure — a more demanding and certainly a tad riskier strategy — which, in turn, gave her the real-time net worth of £7.2 billion (close to $9.7 billion, according to Forbes, as of December 2, 2020).

The company is still a privately-owned business, with 93.3 percent controlled by the family, in contrast to the publicly listed competitors. Out of those, 50.2 percent belongs to Ms. Coates while Peter and John combine for 43.1 percent.

In a way, they remained genuinely truthful to Stoke-on-Trent city motto: Vis Unita Fortior, translated as “United Strength is Stronger.”

(Editor’s note: That’s something probably all of us could use in these times.)

Of course…

A few among us will raise an eyebrow whenever we see such paychecks of gambling executives. A few shall curse the fates of gross gambling or cosmic injustice, even if it occurs in one of the most heavily regulated iGaming markets in the world.

A few will keep thinking she should have given back to society infinitely more than she already did. A few would remain adamant they’d have done the same if they had such a massive volume of wealth.

But, whether we like her or not, Ms. Denise Coates built bet365 against the odds through sheer grit based on well-educated, prudent, and timely moves compounded with a remarkable degree of responsibility and philanthropy.

And for that, if for no other reason, her accomplishments and deeds warrant and command respect.

“Ms. Denise Coates built bet365 against the odds through sheer grit based on well-educated, prudent, and timely moves”

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