Coates made history last year as the highest-earning woman in British business history, taking home £117.5m from salary and dividends. But the 49-year-old from Stoke-on-Trent avoids airs and graces and is unlikely to let smashing another glass ceiling go to her head. She launched online gaming operation Bet365 in down-to-earth fashion in a portable cabin in a car park in Stoke in 2001, just as the internet was taking off. She might have been an online novice then but Coates has gambling in her blood.
Her father Peter, 79, chairman of Premier League football club Stoke City and chairman of Bet365, ran a bookmaker’s where she marked up bets as a schoolgirl. After bagging a first in econometrics at Sheffield University, she trained in accountancy at the family business. Soon she was running the chain and expanded it to almost 50 shops. But her entrepreneurial instinct told her the future was online.
“The internet offered the opportunity of being a global player and it excited me hugely,” she has said. Launching Bet365 was the “ultimate gamble”, as she mortgaged the family betting shops to bankroll the start-up costs. It turned out to be a sure thing. The website, advertised by Ray Winstone in sporting event ad breaks, moves seamlessly between 18 languages and in 2015-16 it took £37bn of wagers (equivalent to the GDP of Slovenia), with profits surging 12.4% to £459.6m and revenues up 5% to £1.55bn.
Coates, with her pixie haircut and no-nonsense suits (plus some weighty pieces of diamond jewellery), is joint chief executive with her brother John, 47. She lives in Cheshire with her husband, Richard Smith, who is the company's property director, and five children. Bet365, which also operates from Gibraltar, is worth at least £4.5bn and the Coates family owns 93.3% of it, with Denise’s 50.25% stake making her the biggest shareholder. The family picked up a £128m dividend in 2015-16 and other assets add £500m. Will Roseff (qv) has a 6.6% stake. Coates was one of the top 10 "remain" backers before the EU referendum, with a donation of £262,500.
Rich List 2017: a record year for women