Sky News has learnt that Playtech has risked infuriating investors by awarding Alan Jackson, its chairman since 2013, a 17% hike in his annual fee from £384,000 to £450,000.
The move, which was not supposed to be publicly disclosed until its annual report is published next year, will trigger a new flashpoint with shareholders in the wake of two profit warnings in the past year.
Sources close to Playtech said that Mr Jackson’s pay rise was the first he had had since taking on the role since 2013, and that it equated to a 4% annualised increase.
The inflation-busting boost to his salary nevertheless puts him in the top quartile of pay for FTSE-250 chairs after a 12-month period in which Playtech has lost almost half its value.
At its AGM in May, the company, which supplies many of the world’s largest gaming groups, saw nearly 60% of shareholders vote against its remuneration report.
More than one-third opposed the re-election of Mr Jackson and his unrelated namesake John Jackson, who chairs Playtech’s remuneration committee.
Some investors were already unhappy with the chairman because he has sat on Playtech’s board since its flotation in 2006, a longevity which they believe has undermined any semblance of independence on Mr Jackson’s part.
The decision to award him a big pay rise will therefore be seen as particularly inflammatory by many leading investors and will raise doubts about the company’s judgement at a time when boardroom pay remains firmly in the spotlight.
Much of the unrest at Playtech’s AGM was the result of Mor Weizer, its chief executive, receiving a 78% pay rise last year despite it issuing the first of its profit alerts.
Playtech will be obliged to consult with shareholders on a new pay policy that it will need to secure majority support for next year if it is to be implemented.
The defeat at this year’s AGM related only to a non-binding advisory vote, although it ensured that Playtech’s name was added to a register of corporate miscreants overseen by the Investment Association.
This week, it announced the appointment of Ian Penrose, the former Sportech chief executive, to its board.
One source pointed out that there were links between Playtech and Sportech which could deepen concerns about the independence of the former’s directors, Including the fact that Mr Weizer used to sit on the Sportech board.
Playtech is also a former shareholder in Sportech, while Roger Withers, the latter’s chairman until last year, also previously chaired the former.
Another non-executive director, Susan Ball, joined Playtech’s board recently, with Mr Jackson said to be planning to remain in place for some time.
Playtech’s most recent profit warning in July came amid a price war in China, where the company serves gambling operators through licences issued in the Philippines.
It has a market value of just under £1.7bn.
Playtech, which is due to announce half-year results on Thursday, declined to comment.