Denise Coates - Bet365 Mastermind
Denise Coates is a British businesswoman who founded online gambling juggernaut Bet365. She serves as the company's co-CEO (along with her brother, John), and she's also their majority shareholder (50.3%). Forbes has her listed as the 52nd richest person in the tech industry, with a net worth of $3.5 billion. This massive personal fortune is also enough to make Coates the 403rd richest person on the planet.
Most residents of the UK, however, could pass her in the street without ever knowing it. That's because the 49-year-old entrepreneur prefers to keep a low profile, and public appearances are kept to a minimum. Interviews are just as rare, and she's only spoken to the media on a few occasions (and then only via email).
Despite her fiercely private nature, the goal of this article is to present an in-depth bio of Denise Coates. We've cobbled together sources from across the Internet, and we hope it's enough to provide a decent picture of where she's been and where she's going.
But before we start discussing Denise, let's first take a brief look at the life of her father, Peter Coates, as their destinies are fundamentally intertwined.
Peter Coates was born the son of a miner in Goldenhill, Stoke-on-Kent. The youngest of 14 children, his childhood was defined by two main factors: poverty and Stoke City football.
In order to help his family make ends meet, Coates dropped out of school at the age of 14 and went to work in an office. This lasted until he was old enough to enter the military, at which point he joined the Parachute Regiment to fulfill his obligations under the 1948 National Service Act.
After leaving the military, he took a job with the Wimpy restaurant chain, eventually rising to the position of regional manager. He also signed on with Stoke City F.C. as an amateur, but his skills simply weren't strong enough to rise to the professional ranks. He would continue to play for non-league teams such as Kidsgrove Athletic and the Goldenhill Wanderers, although he gave up football entirely before the age of 24.
Using his restaurant background as a springboard, Coates founded Stadia Catering. Their specialty was catering events on football grounds, and they would eventually merge with competitor Lindley Catering.
Thanks to an overall increase in personal revenue, Coates next bought a chain of betting shops that he dubbed Provincial Racing. He started the Signal 1 radio station in 1983, and by 1989 he was the majority shareholder of Stoke City F.C.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, he found time to marry his wife, Deirdre, and have four children. The eldest daughter was given the name Denise, and it's now time to shift to the events of her life.
Denise Coates - The Early Years
Denise Coates came into this world on September 26th, 1967. She was born; she grew up. There's no evidence that anything exceptional happened during those early years. If it did, then Denise has been thoroughly unwilling to share it with the public.
As her teenage years were drawing to a close, Denise enrolled at the University of Sheffield. While settling into college life, she also took a job with the family business, marking up bets in the cashier's department of Provincial Racing.
During this period, she met Richard Smith, the man who would later become her husband. Time passed, and within a few years Denise had received a degree in econometrics. For those, like me, who are unfamiliar with such a field of study, our pal Google defines it as
"The branch of economics concerned with the use of mathematical methods (especially statistics) in describing economic systems."
After graduation, Denise returned back to the family business, or, as she called it, "a small chain of pretty rubbish betting shops." Her college experience had given her the tools to take a more active hand, but she next elected to receive further training in the accounting department. She would later admit that the choice was helpful, although she hated the dry nature of bookkeeping.
Impressed with her skills and work ethic, her father eventually offered her the opportunity to run Provincial Racing. She eagerly accepted, even though the chain had been struggling in recent years, and became Managing Director in 1995.
Under her direction, the poor fortunes of Provincial were soon reversed. Not content to remain static, she secured a significant loan from Barclays bank and added a neighboring chain of betting parlors to her family's now-growing empire.
Fortunately, her gender was never an impediment in the male-dominated world of UK sports betting. In one interview, Coates remarked,
"I never gave it a second thought. It didn't cross my mind. I probably had a few [meetings] at first where I had to put somebody right - but I knew my business, so it wasn't a problem. I just wanted to get on with making my business successful. I've never dwelled on the fact, or thought about the fact that I was a woman."
The Rise of Bet365
Sometime near the turn of the century, Denise Coates began to suspect that the Internet was the wave of the future for sports betting. A number of websites already existed for those interested in placing virtual wagers, but the entire industry was in its early stages of development. Sensing an opportunity to be on the front lines of something huge, and to grow the family business exponentially, Denise decided to go all in.
Her first move was to approach her brother, John Coates, and convince him to get involved. It took a bit of prodding, as he had studied law and was working as an attorney, but her enthusiasm and commitment eventually won him over.
According to her brother,
"She just kept saying: 'This is what we're going to do; this is what we're going to do.' The Internet was there, and she just felt sports betting was the thing."
Denise Coates bought the Bet365.com domain name in January of 2000, but she realized that the cost to develop the site and launch it properly would require a massive influx of cash. She first approached a number of venture capitalists in London, but she walked away from those meetings without a single investor.
Undeterred, she turned to her father, other family members, and the Royal Bank of Scotland. The latter granted her a loan of more than $18 million, although she had to put up the family's betting shops as collateral.
"We mortgaged the betting shops and put it all into online," Denise revealed in an interview. "We knew the industry required big startup costs but... we gambled everything on it. We were the ultimate gamblers, if you like."
Bet365.com launched in 2001, and Denise spent countless hours working on the site from a temporary building that had been installed in a parking lot next to one of her brick-and-mortar betting shops. Things were hectic in the early phases, but she never wavered in her devotion.
"You start a 24/7 business and you work 24/7. When you're not here [in the office], you take calls in the middle of the night, regularly - that's how the early days were. I've worked harder than you can possibly imagine. In the last couple of years, life has normalized... the impact on my life now is very different."
Early on, Denise realized that Bet365 would need to take bold steps to stand out from its already established online competitors. In order to do this, she took the following steps:
- It was made clear to visitors that Bet365 was based in the United Kingdom and maintained a series of physical locations that customers could visit in person. This was especially important, as a large number of online operators were located in foreign countries with little or no regulatory supervision.
- Instead of just offering online sports betting, Bet365 added bingo, casino games, poker, horse racing, and much more. This transformed the site into a one-stop destination for gambling, and their business skyrocketed as a result.
- While competing sites tended to offer only the major sports, Bet365 expanded to offer wagering on every imaginable league. From snooker to American sports, customers could visit the site and place a bet on their favorite team or athlete. Others would eventually adopt this model, but it's important to note that Bet365 was the first to do so.
- Customer service was stressed, as bettor retention was determined to be vital to the long-term success of the company.
- The company worked hard to establish a reputation as a gambling operation that could be consistently trusted. This took time, but Bet365 accomplished their goal by avoiding any sort of scandal or perception of shadiness.
- Innovation was also stressed. From their famous commercials starring actor Ray Winstone to constant upgrades featuring mobile and in-play betting, Bet365 has consistently remained one step ahead of the competition.
By 2005, the company's success had become assured. This allowed Denise to sell off the family's land-based betting shops to Coral for over $50 million, and a portion of the profits were used to pay back the Royal Bank of Scotland for their initial loan.
The hard work of Denise became even more evident in 2013, as Bet365 earned more than $187 million in profits. Denise and her father had both become billionaires, which was a far cry from previous generations of Coates who struggled in the nearby mines to eke out a living.
Also in 2013, Denise was recognized as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom. Just one year earlier, she was honored with the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire, which primarily lauded her efforts as a businesswoman and community leader.
A Low Key Private Life
Despite her status as one of the financial elite of the UK, Denise Coates is not a public figure. While her picture can be found alongside various articles on Bet365, she rarely attends events in an official capacity and only conducts interviews via email.
In one of a handful of interviews she's given over the years, Denise explained her rather low-key approach:
"I really don't enjoy the attention. The public side does not come naturally to me. I'm not saying I'm a shrinking violet. I'm not. I've been bossy all my life. It's just I very much enjoy actually running the business."
She and husband Richard Smith, a director of the Stoke City Football Club, live in a farmhouse at Sandbach, which is situated just outside Stoke. Her mother and father reside next door, and most would never suspect a billionaire lived in the area if it weren't for the security guards and shiny Aston Martin car (one of Denise's few indulgences).
In interviews, she's declined to mention if she has children. However, Forbes magazine lists her as a mother of five, and UK documents have indicated that four of these children were adopted from the same family. Whether she adopted or gave birth to the remaining child remains a mystery.
Relationship with Stoke-on-Kent
Throughout her life, Denise Coates has retained a unique relationship with the city of Stoke-on-Kent. It's only appropriate, though, as it's served as the home of both her father and grandfather.
"Why Stoke? It's a simple answer: it's where I'm from. We began in a Portakabin on a car park near one of the betting shops. It's to a large extent down to an accident of birth. As to why we have stayed here when every other major competitor is based in a lower tax jurisdiction, that's a more difficult question to answer logically."
Bet365 remains one of the city's largest employers, with an estimated 2,500 jobs being held mainly by local residents. While the company moved its official headquarters to Gibraltar in 2015, their roots are still firmly intertwined with the city of her birth.
This even extends to the local sports team, as Bet365 owns the Stoke City Football Club. Peter Coates is chairman of the club, while husband Richard Smith serves as director. Her brother also has a keen interest in the success of the franchise, although Denise has little to do with the operation and rarely even attends games.
In 2015, the company absorbed over $38 million in losses from its ownership of the club. While most CEOs would immediately unload such a financial albatross, Denise seems content to carry the burden, especially if keeps the men in her life happy.
Once their empire was worth billions, the Coates family could have easily hoarded their money and refused to help out their fellow Brits. This kind of behavior didn't suit Denise Coates, though, so she started the Bet365 Foundation in August of 2012. The goal of the foundation is to make a positive difference in the lives of others, primarily by providing front-line funding to various charities registered in the UK.
Some of their notable contributions include the following:
- Relief programs for individuals and communities in the Philippines that were devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.
- Douglas Macmillan Hospice for cancer sufferers
- Oxfam organization to alleviate global poverty
- Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD)
- University Hospital of North Midlands Charitable Fund (for the purchase of advanced gynecological equipment)
- Pledged $345,000 to St Joseph's College in Trent Vale to help children in Sierra Leone by building classrooms, digging a well for fresh water, and even purchasing a minibus.
- Donated $120,000 to the University of Bristol Law School, in order to award 40 first-year students from a low-income background with $3,000 apiece.
- Pledged $365,000 to the Wedgwood Collection, which is an industrial archive collecting 250 years of British art and history.
- Supported a charity operating in sub-Saharan Africa to help those living with HIV/AIDS.
- Supported a charity that trains and provides assistance dogs to the physically disabled.
- Provided a donation to an autism charity in order to train 1,000 teachers how to better understand the condition. Also, a support program was developed to help at least six autistic children be educated in mainstream education.
- A donation was provided to a UK charity to help combat problem gambling. This includes both prevention and treatment services.
- A donation was made to a UK-based charity that works with women in sub-Saharan Africa who are infected with HIV/AIDS. The goal of the program is to help more than 300 women develop the skills to monitor their own health and ensure that their babies are free from HIV.
- The foundation supported a charity that operates in an unnamed nation where female education is disproportionately low. The goal of this program was to ensure that more than 100,000 women were aware of their right to an education, as well as developing the skills and level of empowerment to campaign for such rights.
In many ways, Denise Coates is the anti-Calvin Ayre. While the Bodog entrepreneur is fond of sharing details about his adventures and lavish lifestyle (complete with pictures), the founder and co-CEO of Bet365 prefers to remain out of the limelight. Instead, this bright UK businesswoman, wife, and mother spends her time sweating the details of her business, constantly looking for ways to improve customer satisfaction and therefore boost revenue.
Every so often, however, I like to imagine that she hits the roads near Stoke in her Aston Martin, turns up her favorite British pop song on the radio, and takes some time to enjoy her impressive accomplishments as a self-made billionaire. Mind you, not that she would ever admit to such a thing.
Author: Shane Rivers
Updated: May 2017
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