If you have heard the term tennis courtsiding or tennis courtside betting and wondered what it exactly entails, its legality and how it fits in the whole scheme of tennis betting, here’s an in-depth guide to it. Read on for more…
So, let’s begin with the big question.
What is Tennis Courtsiding or Courtside Betting?
For starters, courtsiding isn’t restricted to tennis alone but can be done across multiple sports but it has been made famous because of the number of tennis incidents which came to light.
What is it exactly? Well, as the name suggests, it is tennis betting from the courts and it’s done to extract the advantage associated with the delay between the actual, live match and the updating of the bookmakers’ odds.
The television broadcast of any live sports or tennis match has a delay of a few seconds from when the actual event has taken place. For those courtside, this delay allows the person to place a bet immediately after an event has taken place in the match but before the odds have been updated.
It’s easy to see the advantage which can be had from this. Say Novak Djokovic is taking on Rafael Nadal at the French Open and the Serb is 6/4 to win the next point on Nadal’s serve with multiple bettors backing the favourite Spaniard obviously. If the tennis courtsider then sees Djokovic steal the next point and is quick enough to place a bet on it before the odds are updated or frozen, he/she has achieved what was needed.
There was a time long ago when tennis courtsiders would have their laptops on during the match and update their bets but with time, authorities have become more and more stringent. Courtsiders now use hidden mobile phones to update someone else with a click of a button outside the courts to place their bets.
So what’s the Problem with Tennis Courtsiding?
There are two perspectives here. First, from the point of view of those involved in courtsiding.
Well, for one, it’s not legal everywhere. There have been a few arrests made around this and while there are grey areas around the law, courtsiders have been banned from attending tournaments at the very least.
Daniel Dobson, a British national, was among the first to be arrested at the 2014 Australian Open and while the case was thrown away later, things have become tighter as a result (more on Dobson below).
However, this is not the only issue.
Courtsiding ceases to remain an exciting job beyond the initial, honeymoon period, especially with the authorities keeping a close eye on the proceedings. To be on the move constantly while travelling, spending all that time away, to go with the expenditure for flights, hotel room and match passes, all of which is a risky investment given how easily a courtsider can be caught and, at best, be expelled from the tournament.
Also, in some countries, like Australia, those indulging in tennis courtsiding could be jailed for up to 10 years, taking any fun out of this activity. UK doesn’t explicitly have a law against courtsiding but tournament organisers frown upon it and many such people have been ejected from tournaments and banned for years from attending them.
The other perspective is for the bettors or punters who bet on sports and events from their homes as most do.
And obviously do not know about these tennis courtsiders. Since they are betting on tennis matches and points against fellow punters who are on court-side it makes it very unfair for those betting from home.
How do Tennis Courtsiders Operate?
As mentioned, in earlier times courtsiders would even sit with laptops and based on the action which was unfolding they would place their bets. Tournament authorities became stricter and courtsiders had to come up with more novel ways to get past them.
We spoke about Daniel Dobson earlier, the first man to be arrested for indulging in courtsiding. It’s interesting to hear what he said in an interview with the BBC about his life as a tennis courtsider before his arrest.
Dobson calls it a ‘dream job’ thanks to all the travel involved and the thrill associated with getting it done before anyone else. In that interview, he had explained:
“You would sit on court for as long as you were needed pressing the buttons, which were sewn into my trousers and relay the scores back to London. You’d press one for Djokovic, two for Murray, for example, as fast as you could.”
He also said, one of the main reasons why people like Dobson would be sent for courtsiding was to be able to capture and report back data at a quicker rate than either television broadcasters or any of the bookmakers.
Since people like Dobson would be early to report the point, the company he would be working for would know whether or not the bets they have made are at a decent price or if it needs to be changed.
Dobson was arrested but soon released because the cops allegedly thought he was looking to influence the result of the game which wasn’t the case. He was released later but it also meant he hasn’t been able to go back to his old tennis courtsiding days again.
Other Cases of Tennis Courtsiding?
There have been reports of tennis chair umpires getting suspended because they were involved in courtsiding. These umpires, according to a report in The Guardian, were banned from their roles after it was revealed they were involved in updating the scores too slowly in order to allow betting syndicates bit of a head-start.
So how did this work? The ITF had a deal with Sportsradar to distribute scores from these lower-circuit tournaments based on which bookmakers would update their odds. The scoring was done by the chair umpires too immediately after a point finished but in some of these cases, these umpires would deliberately update it slower than normal, even updating the syndicates before sending it via the official channels.
This would allow the betting syndicates to place their bets before the odds for the already played point had been updated.