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The gambling and gaming sector was, in decades past, dominated by men and it is refreshing to see more women gaining senior positions in recent years. The appointment this week of Joanne Whittaker as Chief Executive of Betfred is a reassuring sign that the industry welcomes and encourages qualified and able women.
Whittaker, 43, is very much part of the Betfred family, having been head of IT at Betfred from her early 20’s before leaving to start a new business, Fideliti, in 2005 which provides childcare vouchers. In the year to March 2019, Fideliti had pre-tax profits of £1.7million on a turnover of £80 million but the withdrawal of the Government’s childcare voucher scheme has led to the business being largely mothballed. Whittaker has also created Angel Advance, a debt advice service, and a loans company, Workplace Finance. All three businesses were backed by her former employer, Fred Done, 78, who now welcomes her back to Betfred’s Warrington HQ, as part of his long term succession plan. For the moment, however, Done remains as chairman of the company and has told staff that he is “going absolutely nowhere”.
Joanne Whittaker will take over from Done, who is current CEO of the business, on 6 April. Back in 2012 she said in a prophetic interview with the Manchester Evening News “I want to be the female Fred Done”. She added at the time “I just love working, I’m so sad. I love business. I love work. I’m just a grafter.” Her ambition has now been realised.
Betfred remains a dominant force in the UK gambling sector with an operating profit of almost £75million in the year ended September 2019. The Done brothers are worth an estimated £1.2billlion and Whittaker may aspire to develop the company further and, in so doing, build her own fortune. She will have some way to go in order to rival the most successful women in the sector, Denise Coates. Coates, the founder and joint CEO of Bet365, has an estimated net worth of $12.2 per Forbes magazine and she is the highest paid chief executive in the country.
Whittaker’s appointment follows on from the January appointments of Jette Nygaar-Anderson as Chief Executive of Entain and Christina Niculae as CEO of Interactive Gaming Group. These three notable appointments represent a major shift in equality of opportunity for women in the gaming and gambling industry, both in the UK and in Europe.