What is Courtsiding, And Is It Legal?
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What is Courtsiding? Is It Legal?

Since gambling and sports betting existed, people have been creating new and innovative ways of beating the house, and many of the strategies, such as arbitrage betting and value betting, still exist and are very much effective. But what if there was another way of placing sports bets and having a guaranteed chance of making a profit?

How a sneaky loophole lost gambling companies millions! 😮 - BBC

What if it was possible to place bets on an event knowing how it would end before the bookmakers? Such a thing exists(ed), and it is called courtsiding.

But is courtsiding still possible, and is it even legal? Yes and no, for both.

What is Courtsiding?

Courtsiding is a term describing the practice of going to live sports events to place live bets on the game as it happens and before it’s seen on TV or picked up by the bookmakers. Since there’s always a few-second delay between the events in the game and the broadcast, this creates an excellent opportunity for bettors to exploit bookmakers who can’t pick up on the action fast enough.

Courtsiding has been most often used in tennis, hence the name court-siding (being on the side of the [tennis] court).

The process is very simple. A bettor would attend a tennis match, watch the action and place bets on an event after it had happened but before the TV broadcast reached other bettors. So after player X scores a point, a punter has a few seconds to place a bet on the “next player to score” market, guaranteeing that his bet will hit.

How Does Courtsiding Work?

As explained, the concept of courtsiding is very simple. Punters only need to place bets on an event after it has happened and before it got picked up by other traders and bookmakers, but less so the latter. Since this strategy was obviously extremely effective at making a profit from betting, it was not really viable on soft bookmakers, who limit winning players. Yes, you can make money courtsiding on bet365, but your account won’t last very long!

So, with courtsiding, the punters would gain an edge over other traders on betting exchanges, who watched the game from their TVs or live streams and always be a few seconds behind the live action. 

After the authorities started to clamp down on courtsiding, it became more secretive and primarily executed by betting syndicates rather than casual bettors. 

People also became more innovative with it after they were no longer able to sit by the court with their laptops in their hands, but solutions to that problem were simple. Some pressed a button on the phone and alarmed another person to place a bet or found another way to give a signal.

Unsurprisingly, people who engaged in courtsiding were making a lot of money with it. But this begs the question – was courtsiding legal?

Whether courtsiding is legal or not is a tricky question to answer since, in most jurisdictions, it’s technically not illegal. One exception is Australia, where bettors caught courtsiding can face hefty fines and even jail time. 

Outside of Australia, courtsiding technically isn’t illegal. But this comes with an asterisk.

Just because courtsiding isn’t explicitly illegal, it doesn’t make it acceptable, and it often comes down to the authorities of the specific sporting events to decide what’s the appropriate action. At the 2016 US Open, 20 spectators were caught courtsiding and were given a 20-year ban from attending the event, one of whom was arrested for trespassing after attending the event a year later.

There was even an incident involving a Spanish tennis player Gerard Joseph Platero Rodriguez, who engaged in courtsiding at the 2020 French Open, for which he was suspended for four years and fined $15,000.

Many tennis tournament organisers have a no-nonsense approach to catching courtsiding, and all of the bigger events such as Wimbledon, the US Open, the French Open, and the Australian Open have “spotters” whose sole job is to identify possible courtside. Those caught will often receive lifetime bans from the events and heavy fines.

So is courtsiding illegal? In most cases, it won’t land you in jail, but you will most definitely get a lifetime ban and a fine for doing it.

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In What Sports Is Courtsiding Possible?

Tennis was the first choice for courtsiding, where spectators can sit so close to the play that they get to catch everything that happens and place bets appropriately. Moreover, the large swings in odds between points, more points to bet on, and having much larger liquidity made tennis the perfect sport for courtsiding.

But tennis is not the only sport where it’s possible to apply the practice. Betting live at an event in any sport still presents an advantage, so there is nothing stopping you from doing it in football, golf, or any other sport. 

Football is a sport where courtsiding (pitch-siding) would be possible, mainly because it’s much more difficult to spot people doing it. With thousands of fans at the stadium, many with phones in their hands, taking pictures, it would be easy to blend in, and place live bets. This removes one big issue courtsiders have to deal with, but this doesn’t make it any more appealing.

Betfair has taken action against courtsiding by increasing the delay before in-play bets are executed, which can be anywhere between five to ten seconds. And this alone can remove any advantage a courtsider would have.

How about golf? At a golf event, it’s easy to blend in with the crowd and with a group of people, it’s easy to cover all the holes, which would gain the courtsiders a big advantage since TV coverage can only focus on one hole at a time. But there’s another drawback – golf has much lower liquidity, and some golf events outright ban people from bringing their mobile devices.

We could go down the list of all sports, but ultimately, there are two things a courtsider has to keep in mind:

  • How easy is it to have a phone or another device at you to signal your partner to place a bet?
  • Does the sport you’re betting on have high enough liquidity?

Is Courtsiding Still Possible?

Courtsiding is technically still possible, but the tournament organisers have taken the necessary steps to make it as difficult as possible.

Besides having “spotters” who look for possible courtsiders, the ATP and the WTA oblige the umpires to enter the scores into their devices as soon as the point is decided, significantly reducing the time the point is scored and the time it gets added to the system.

With so many obstacles in the way, courtsiding has become a far less attractive betting strategy as it requires a lot more skill nowadays than it did years ago. Not to mention that it has to be done much more clandestinely to avoid getting spotted.

Courtsiding is still alive, but there are significantly fewer tennis courtsiders than there used to be, as many decided it’s not worth the trouble.

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Conclusion

Courtsiding is not nearly as easy to do as it once was, so it’s fair to say that it’s not as popular as years ago. And even though it’s technically not illegal, it’s definitely not fair for those who didn’t engage in it, so it’s arguably better that courtsiding is no longer as accessible as it used to be.

Maybe you believe that courtsiding is a fair game since why wouldn’t punters be allowed to get an edge for putting in the work and travelling to the event? Fair or not, courtsiding still exists, granted at a much smaller scale than years back.

FAQ

What is courtsiding?

Courtisinding is an act of travelling to a sports event and communicating the results to someone who isn’t at the event to allow them to place bets on the event before the bookmakers and other traders (on exchanges) see what happened. This is possible because the TV broadcasts are always a few seconds behind the actual match.

Is courtsiding legal?

Outside of Australia, courtsiding is not illegal; however, those caught will likely face a lifetime ban from attending the sports event and receive a hefty fine.

Will bookmakers ban you for courtsiding?

Bookmakers will ban anyone who is winning too much, which will ultimately include courtsiders, who will always be a step ahead of the bookmaker and place advantageous bets. Meanwhile, betting exchanges and sharps don’t ban punters.

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