Despite their hefty pay packets, GVC’s chair, Lee Feldman, and chief executive, Kenny Alexander, have so far managed to avoid questions over their remuneration from investors this year.
Instead of inviting a local audience, GVC Holdings held its annual general meeting (AGM) on a yacht in Gibraltar, hundreds of miles away from its UK base. No investors flew there to question them.
As the parent company to well-known names such as Ladbrokes, Coral and Foxy Bingo, GVC operates mainly from the UK and the Isle of Man. Despite this, Alexander maintains that the company regularly holds its AGM in Gibraltar.
Lasted less than 15 minutes
The anger comes over pay in the upper echelons. Earlier last month Alexander turned down a £150m ($190m) pay rise that was linked to mergers. His total pay last year was £19.1m ($24.3m), thanks to a “legacy award” from when the company took over bwin.party in 2015.
This cut came in part to appease shareholders. Last year, 44% of them voted against Alexander’s pay package in the 2018 remuneration report, and many were hoping to take him to task for his annual pay at this year’s AGM. His earnings over the last three years have continued to rise and topped £55m ($70m) for the period.
Feldman is also a big hitter, having also collected £8.5m ($10.8m) this year, albeit a small fall from the £8.9 ($11.3m) of last year.
This year, the AGM was held aboard the super-yacht hotel Sunborn. It was a short meeting at the five-star location, with those who attended saying it was less than 15 minutes. Despite shareholder concerns over pay that have been rumbling on over the last year, just eight attended the AGM. They were all GVC staff and company registrars.
Unlike most AGMs, the board answered no questions, although Alexander maintains that they were not avoiding anyone. He said afterwards: “If you think we’re running away from shareholders, that’s not the case. We hold every board meeting in Gibraltar and we talk to shareholders a lot.”
Despite Alexander forgoing a £150m pay rise last month, critics branded the move a token gesture. However, he was quick to defend his earnings. He said: “I’m contractually entitled to the bonus. There was never any way I was going to forgo it. It is of that magnitude because the business has been very successful.”
Now for the second year in a row, shareholders are still complaining about big bonuses at the company and investors have already faced panic this year. In March, Feldman and Alexander sold £20m worth of shares, causing the share price to drop by a fifth. The pair have tried to allay concerns, stating that these bonuses were simply a one-time occurrence.
Carolyn Harris MP, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm, has said that she will be demanding tough action of GVC when it comes to accounting for pay remunerations.
She said: “This is yet another example of unaccountable executive pay spiraling out of control in the online gambling sector while families continue to be harmed by this industry. We have asked GVC to appear in front of us to explain their behavior, and we will be demanding tough action.”