Firm started from car park in Stoke 13 years ago handled far more wagers than sites run by Ladbrokes and William Hill
Britain's biggest online bookmaker, Bet365, has seen profits leap by a third to £148m, despite the family-owned business swallowing £31m of losses from its controlling interest in Stoke City football club.
Bet365, started from a car park in Stoke 13 years ago and best known to football fans for its TV adverts featuring Ray Winstone promoting live "in-play" bets during half-time commercial breaks, saw nearly £20bn wagered on its website in the year to March 2013, making it larger than sites operated by Ladbrokes and William Hill combined.
Despite its low profile, it is the biggest private employer in Stoke, and its workforce rose by almost 19% to more than 2,500 during the year.
The business, based in unassuming offices beside a run of derelict pottery factories, paid corporation tax of £31m. The online operations of William Hill and Ladbrokes UK moved offshore several years ago.
Just over half of Bet365 shares are owned by founder Denise Coates, the daughter of Stoke City's chairman, Peter Coates. She has emerged as Britain's most successful self-made businesswoman in recent years. She received a CBE in acknowledgment of her success in 2011.
Coates and her fellow shareholders received dividends of £15m last year, the latest accounts reveal, half of which went to her, with the balance largely to her brother John and father Peter.
In addition, Denise Coates received pay and bonuses last year of £5.4m.
In contrast, Angela Ahrendts, the American chief executive of Burberry and the highest-paid woman on the board of a publicly listed company, received cash and shares worth £10m for the year to March.
In the past five years, Bet365 has paid out dividends totalling £130m, half of which have gone to Coates, cementing her reputation as one of Europe's most successful dotcom entrepreneurs.
The company also has £430m in cash reserves on its balance sheet.
In a rare interview last year, Coates told the Guardian how she has, on occasion, had to correct some people who had assumed that her father, a well-known businessman, ran the group.
"I think there have been false assumptions made about my role," she said. "There was a misunderstanding that as Dad was the chairman of Stoke, he ran Bet365 – something Dad was always clear that he didn't do. However, the media decides, for whatever reasons, that maybe it makes a better story if they say he does."
Coates said she does not enjoy the attention that success has brought. "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 that I very much enjoy actually running the business."
Pretax profits from the group's gambling operations rose 54% to £179m, with new apps for tablet devices helping growth. New licences to offer betting were taken in Spain, Denmark and Austria, with hopes of similar deals in Germany and Greece.
Meanwhile, losses at Stoke City rose from £5.8m to £30.9m. This investment is largely run by Coates's father, Peter. She nevertheless said in her chief executive's review accompanying the accounts: "The club maintained its Premier League status after further heavy investment in the playing squad and an increase in the annual wage bill [from £51.9m] to £59.4m.
"[Bet365] is committed – following the new broadcast deal and the introduction of financial fair-play rules – to reduce the club's reliance on the group and, over the medium term, to make it self-sufficient".