Paying taxes is nobody’s idea of fun and UK tax specialists revel in the challenge of reducing their clients’ tax bills through legal mechanisms to avoid tax, rather than evade tax which is a criminal offence. Two highly successful gambling businesses – Bet365 and Betfred- are hitting the headlines due to the eye-watering payments their founders have made to HM Revenue & Customs last year.
The Sunday Times Rich List team have, for the second year in a row, put Denise Coates of Bet365 at the top of the heap of British taxpayers. Denise’s tax bill is £573 million, some £150 million ahead of the second-biggest taxpayer – Glenn Gordon, of the spirits company William Grant & Sons. Third-placed are the Done brothers, Fred and Peter Done, whose joint tax liability is estimated at a rather substantial £191 million.
53-year old Denise Coates, CBE, is the UK’s wealthiest self-made woman and also the highest paid chief executive. From starting her on-line gambling and gaming business in a portacabin in a Stoke-on-Trent car park twenty years ago, Coates has become a billionaire with an estimated net worth of over £7 billion. Unlike many wealthy Brits, Coates remains a UK taxpayer and continues to develop her eponymous Foundation. The most recent financial information available shows her paying £85 million into the Foundation in 2019 to support charitable activities across the UK and abroad.
Bookies Fred and Peter Done, 77 and 73-years old respectively, have built Betfred over a considerably longer timeframe. The brothers have been involved in the gambling industry for over 50 years and they own and operate over 1,600 betting shops in addition to their online gambling platform. With a joint estimated worth of over £1.2 billion, the bookies have risen from their humble beginnings in a Salford slum to immense wealth but, like Coates, they continue to reside in the UK and pay their taxes to support the rest of society. They, too, support charitable organisations and this philanthropy – together with their background and continuing role as wealth-creators, mean that Fred and Peter Done rarely attract public criticism. Keeping a low profile definitely helps too!
With the myriad of challenges currently facing the gambling industry, it will be unsurprising if the tax remittances of both Coates and the Done brothers decline next year. In addition to the difficult trading conditions, there is the constant threat of further regulation within the UK home market. The Government’s decision to limit the maximum wager on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOTBs) from £100 to £2 back in 2019 shook the industry, with Fred Done saying at the time that bookies were ‘fighting for their lives”. But there is a recognition across the board that problem gambling is increasing, with ready access to gambling and gaming opportunities through mobile phones being a particular catalyst, and that further regulation is imminent.
Legislation banning advertisement and sponsorship by the tobacco industry was brought in eighteen years ago and campaigners lobbying Parliament are keen for similar restrictions to apply to the gambling and gaming industry.
One proposal gaining a lot of newspaper headlines is the banning of bookie logos on shirts and pitchside advertising. This would clearly reduce the public’s exposure to the bookies’ brands but would also have a negative impact on football clubs. John Coates, Denise Coates’ brother and vice-chairman of Stoke City, recently commented of problem gambling that “I do have concerns” and that he welcomes the review of the industry but he cautions that football may well suffer financially from the loss of revenue from the gambling industry and he added “Stoke City survives on the money we put into it”.
But more concerning to Bet365, Betfred and their rivals are other proposals, less headline-grabbing but more significant in their impact on the industry. Affordability checks would inconvenience and discourage gamblers, with a commensurate downward pull on revenues. Limits on how much a punter could bet or lose would again provide a barrier to entry. Also proposed are plans to limit on-line casino stakes to £2; this would have a dramatic and negative effect on revenues. So the gambling and gaming industry has major challenges ahead and the enormous tax bills paid by Denise Coates and the Done brothers last year are expected to drop as the current difficult trading conditions are compounded by new regulation in the coming months and years.