Against the odds: Denise Coates's good fortune

How did Denise Coates turn a £15m loan into a billion pound fortune? Margareta Pagano reports on the woman from Stoke behind the world’s biggest online betting firm

While Stoke City were beating Arsenal at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday, there was one person missing from the jubilant home crowd – one of the club’s billionaire owners, Denise Coates. Rather than watch the hugely important match with her father, Peter Coates, the Stoke chairman, she was working flat out not far away from the stadium in the offices of Bet365 in the middle of an industrial estate.

It’s where Ms Coates, the chief executive of Bet365, is to be found most Saturday afternoons because it is the peak time of the week for the online sports gaming company that she set up 14 years ago working out of a Portakabin. By March 2001, as the internet was taking off, Ms Coates launched what she has herself described as the “ultimate gamble”– a new sports betting platform, Bet365. As the platform got going, the family borrowed £15 million from RBS to expand, pledging the loans against their betting shop estate, the chain of Provincial Racing shops.

Her gamble paid off. Bet365 is now the world’s biggest online gaming and betting business – taking £20 billion in bets last year from seven million customers in 200 countries – and Ms Coates is one of the UK’s wealthiest businesswomen. According to Forbes, it emerged on Tuesday, her personal fortune is worth $1.6 billion.

And, according to Ms Coates, it’s all been achieved by sheer grit. In one of her rare interviews, she admits to being a “bossy” workaholic, working through the night in the early days to get Bet365 off the ground. Whatever you think of betting, there’s also something rather compelling about how Ms Coates has coupled the age-old industry of gaming with cutting-edge technology to create a goldmine. And what a success it has been – last year Bet365 made a £150 million profit – and that was after absorbing £31 million of losses from the family’s majority interest in Stoke.

All bets now are on Stoke turning the corner after a disastrous run in the 1990s when her father – during an earlier spell as chairman – was vilified by the fans. All told, the family, which bought the club back in 2006, has now sunk £100 million into it – an investment on which Ms Coates is keen to see a payback.

More than half of the Bet365 goldmine is owned by Ms Coates, who with her husband, Richard Smith – also a Stoke director – recently adopted four young children from the same family. Last year she received pay and bonuses of £5.4 million, as well as her share of £15 million in dividends. After the payouts, the company was left with £430 million in cash reserves. It’s also been great for Stoke-on-Trent – nearly of all of its 2,500 employees are local – and new offices are being built on the site of Stoke’s local paper, The Sentinel, in the city centre. 

Yet while Bet365’s television ads are familiar most of us have never heard of this driven entrepreneur who doesn’t even reveal her age. She likes it that way, too. Even in Stoke, she passes unnoticed, although her personalised Aston Martin must be a giveaway. What is known is that Ms Coates started working while at school in the cashiers’ department of her father’s betting shops, marking up bets, and later in accounts. After university, where she gained a first in econometrics and met her husband, she returned to the “pretty rubbish betting shops”, rising to become managing director in 1995, before going on to take over another chain.

Intensely private, she refuses all face-to-face interviews, preferring to correspond by email. Tellingly, she broke her own rule in one interview to correct the impression that it had been her father – who also owns the Lindleys Catering business – who founded and ran Bet365. Otherwise, she lives quietly with her family at a farmhouse next door to her father and mother at Sandbach, just outside Stoke. Not surprisingly, security guards were recently hired to protect the family home.

Locals say the last time they saw her publicly was with her father at Wembley in 2011 when Man City beat Stoke in the FA Cup final. After Saturday’s win, which ensured that Stoke avoid relegation, they hope she will be present at another final; even if she is only there to celebrate that more success means reduced losses.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea