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

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.

Philanthropy

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.

Conclusion

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.