What Is Courtsiding & Does It Actually Work?

Since gambling began, probably many thousands of years ago, people have sought to make an easy buck (or whatever currency was used in Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago when the first gambling may well have taken place). Gamblers are always looking for ways to beat the system and the methods conceived of range from the wholly legal and entirely ethical, to outright cheating and everything in between.

People have used loaded dice, bribed dealers in casinos, fixed games of football, developed ingenious blackjack card counting systems to name just a few of the methods used over the years to try to get one over on the bookies and casinos of the world. Courtsiding is on of the more modern attempts to profit from gambling whilst taking on little or no risk and here we explain what it is, how it functions, whether it remains profitable and also look at the legal issues around it.

Courtsiding: The Basics

Tennis tournament

Raja Sambasivan / Flickr.com

In very simple terms, courtsiding is the process of exploiting being in attendance at a sporting event and using the advantage that gives you over punters and bookies who are relying on information received electronically. That information may be in the form of a radio broadcast, television footage, a live stream, a score website or a bookmaker’s odds but no matter how “live” it purports to be, it will always be behind actual events.

Latency

That lag is technically known as latency and courtsiders use this latency and various supplementary techniques to try to effectively bet on events after they have happened. The latency (in conjunction with more advanced methods) can range from just a second or so up to a much more sizeable amount of time, maybe even as much as 15 seconds or more.

Courtsiding can be done in many different ways using variations on the core technique. However, it takes its name from its use in tennis where it is believed to have been first employed. Whether other people had used similar tactics in other sports previously we do not know but certainly, tennis is the sport most linked with courtsiding.

How Do Courtsiders Operate?

Woman flying drone in secret

Courtsiding is the broad term to cover a range of similar activities but in general, courtsiders work in teams. The time-sensitive nature of the process, where bets need to be placed very quickly and very efficiently, means that it is far easier to operate in this way. In addition, the need to keep one’s activities as secret as possible means that it is no longer viable to sit at a game of tennis or any other sport with your mobile phone, let alone a laptop or tablet, permanently ready to go.

Home & Away

Generally speaking, someone inside a venue will relay information to a partner stationed remotely who is sitting at a computer. The former tells the latter when to bet, whilst the latter physically places the bets. A BBC documentary that is available to watch in full on the iPlayer shows how the process worked.

Concealed Communication Device

Comedian, Lloyd Griffith, operated alongside a courtsiding team following a tennis match and saw how the process worked. Using a concealed communication device, the partner at the arena helped their remote accomplice place bets on who would win the next point or game… after they had already been won. Because bookies and their odds use a third-party provider to receive the information, there is a slight delay. What’s more, this information is not generated until the match’s chair umpire inputs the score manually.

Slow Umpires Targeted

Courtsiders using this method would deliberately target umpires who were especially slow to update their scoring system. The member of the team inside the arena relays a very simple piece of information, for example “server” or “return”, and this is an instruction to the person manning the computer and placing the bets to wager on that person. The second the point is won, the courtsider may say “server” and then it is a race against the clock.

The person placing the wagers will have a second or so in which to place the bet before the umpire updates the score, that information is sent to the processor, who then sends it to the bookmaker, who then updates their odds or closes the market.

Drones

There are many variations on this theme in different sports where slightly different techniques are used and slightly different weaknesses are exploited. For example, in 2020 and 2021, there were various media reports about drones being used to provide truly live feeds of horse racing.

Such feeds would be significantly ahead of the footage shown on TV or a bookmaker’s streams and would give anyone with access a huge advantage over punters relying on those. For example, if the leading horse was to fall at the last hurdle, a punter using drone footage may be able to lay them on an exchange at incredibly low odds of 1.2 (1/5 in fractional prices). That individual will have seen the horse fall and hence knows it can’t win.

At the same time, a rival punter on the exchange may be backing the horse at that same price. Watching a bookmaker’s stream with significant latency they may feel that 1.2 is great value and that if it clears the final obstacle those odds will tumble. Of course, their footage has the horse approaching the hurdle, whilst in reality, the person accepting their money knows that the horse has taken a fall.

Does Courtsiding Work?

The short answer is yes it does and the fact that people are prepared to pay to receive drone footage essentially proves that point. As with most gambling systems and techniques and loopholes in general, it is often a game of cat and mouse. Both sporting and gambling authorities, as well as the bookmakers themselves, have sought to close the loopholes that make courtsiding possible.

Better Technology

Better technology means that modern streams and footage are closer to being truly live than ever before. The same is true of livescore services and in-play odds. Spotters at sporting events are paid to look out for suspicious behaviour. Bookmakers have developed ever more sophisticated algorithms to spot potentially dangerous customers and close their accounts in double-quick time. In addition for many events, there is a significant delay in placing in-play bets that makes it harder for courtsiders to exert their edge.

The Lure of Easy Money

In addition, more people than ever before are attempting to courtside, lured by the promise of easy money, beating the bookies and the glamour that comes with both. This means that there is much greater competition for the out-of-line prices and, taken altogether, these things mean that it is probably harder than it has ever been to profit from courtsiding.

That said, as we started by saying, courtsiding does indeed still work. In any game of cat and mouse, it is not just the cat who gets quicker in trying to catch the mouse. So too does the mouse learn new tricks and inevitably courtsiders will respond to advances made by bookies with new tactics, techniques and strategies.

Breaches of Terms

As we have already mentioned, over the years people have used all sorts of techniques to try to cash in from betting. These have varied from entirely legal methods, such as using in-depth research simply to beat the odds, to entirely illegal and immoral methods, such as bribing sports stars to deliberately throw matches. Courtsiding is undoubtedly a grey area that lies somewhere in the middle.

Laws always evolve in response to people trying to find and exploit loopholes and work in such grey areas. As such, things may well change but, by and large, for the time being at least, courtsiding can probably be viewed as legal.

Electronic Equipment Banned in Grounds

However, many sporting events expressly forbid such activities. This means that the terms and conditions one has to agree to when buying a ticket will clearly state that you cannot use electronic equipment inside the ground or stadium to bet in this way and gain an advantage over those outside the ground or stadium.

Getting Your Betting Account Shut Down

As well as being frowned upon, at the very least, by sporting authorities, courtsiding is also likely to contravene the terms and conditions of your betting site. This may be less of an issue at a betting exchange, where the site itself is not the one losing the money. However, if you are regularly beating a bookmaker and hitting their profit margins, you can be pretty sure your account won’t last long before it is shut down.

Types of Bets Make It Obvious

The types of bets and markets used by courtsiders and the timing of the wagers they make mean it will usually be pretty obvious to a bookie if you are courtsiding. Most have some fairly vague, slightly generic terms and conditions regarding taking unfair advantage of the site or other customers, as well as cheating and collusion and “dishonest” behaviour.

However, even without recourse to such terms, ultimately bookmakers reserve the right to limit your bets, reducing the amount you can stake on any wager. In addition, they can simply also close your account with no need to justify why they are doing it, so there is certainly no need for them to prove anything or justify their actions. Ultimately anyone consistently beating the bookies will see their accounts limited and then closed and this will happen even sooner when the person in question is making bets at very specific times on very specific markets.

What Does the Law Say?

Gavel in courtroom

There are ways and means around being caught by the bookies and the sporting authorities. Courtsiding pros, like many professional gamblers in general who would otherwise be limited, often have access to multiple betting accounts, sometimes even hundreds or thousands of them. These are often with the same bookmaker but in different peoples’ names and the legality of this is dubious, to say the least. In terms of avoiding being spotted by staff inside grounds and arenas, likewise, committed and experienced exponents of this technique have their methods.

So, if we ignore the issue of breaching the Ts and Cs of bookies and sports bodies, what exactly does the law say? Well, the law varies from country to country and is evolving to try and keep up with a rapidly changing world. In 2014, it was reported that a man had been arrested in connection with courtsiding at the Australian Open tennis.

The Independent reported that an arrest had taken place at the previous year’s tournament but nothing could be done because “the relevant legislation was not in place”. However, changes to the law in Victoria, where the Aussie Open takes place, meant that a year on the arrest was made. In the end, the case was dropped, which highlights the difficulty authorities have in pursuing courtsiders, even when legislation is altered.

Banishment from Tournaments

There have been lots of incidences of sporting bodies taking action against courtsiders, with English cricket authorities ejecting a number of people from various grounds over the years. In addition, in 2016 the US Open tennis authorities went further, with 20 people receiving a 20-year ban from the tournament for offences.

However, these are not legal issues and until recently the closest we had come to seeing official legal action was when one of the abovementioned 20 was arrested for trespass when they tried to flout the ban at the following year’s US Open.

Hefty Fines

However, in 2020 the minor Spanish player Gerard Joseph Platero Rodriguez was heavily fined and banned for four years for courtsiding. Rodriguez was found to have participated in courtsiding several times and in addition to the ban from playing tennis received a $15,000 fine.

What the UKGC Have to Say

However, whilst he made unwanted history by becoming the first player to be charged with the offence of courtsiding, his punishment was not a legal one but was instead meted out by the Tennis Integrity Unit. Ultimately, the fact that there has not, at the time of writing, been a single criminal charge made for courtsiding tells you all you need to know. In addition, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) have said that they do not consider it to be an offence in the UK.

Whilst the UKGC is technically a part of the government, they are regulatory and supervisory and are not the arbiters of the law. That said, their opinion would certainly be crucial in any changes to the legislation, so we can assume that courtsiding is unlikely to be made illegal any time soon.

Is Courtsiding Ethical?

Code of ethics

Irrespective of what the law says, some may be concerned with the other issue of whether or not courtsiding is ethical. In many ways, this will come down to personal mores and beliefs. Some will feel that bookies who have exploited punters for years and cashed in on problem gamblers are fair game. They will argue that if it was wrong, it would be illegal and they will have no compunction about what they do while it is still technically legal.

Others will argue that courtsiding is at best ignored by the law and, irrespective of the legal position, making bets when you know the outcome is unfair and unethical. They will argue that bookmakers are legitimate businesses that provide a genuine service and bring a lot of joy to the punters who enjoy betting responsibly.

Equally, they will argue that even if courtsiders do not directly harm fellow punters (though that some that use betting exchanges definitely do), they hurt them indirectly by forcing bookmakers to offer worse odds, more restrictive conditions, fewer markets with in-play betting and a longer time lag when making an in-play bet. Ultimately though, the decision will always come down to the individual. Now you are fully equipped with the facts about courtsiding, which side of the fence do you find yourself on?