Courtsiding: Does Being at the Match Give You an Edge Over the Bookies?

Crowd at a tennis match
salajean / Bigstockphoto.com

Courtsiding has been around for many years but until relatively recently it was very much an underground activity. Anytime there is money to be made, it is always the case that some people will use their ingenuity, cunning and chutzpah to stretch the boundaries of legality, reaching as deep as they dare into grey areas where easy greens can be made. It is typically in their interests to keep such activities as secret as possible and for many years courtsiding took place under the radar.

Where once only those involved, either as active participants or as people and bodies trying to prevent it, were aware of courtsiding, it is now something with which many savvy gamblers are at least loosely familiar. Whether you have just heard the term for the first time and want to know what it is, or you already know the basics and are wondering if it is worth trying, we’ve got the full lowdown on this activity.

What Is Courtsiding?

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic (Leonard Zhukovsky / Bigstockphoto.com)

Courtsiding takes its name from the sport of tennis, where the practice is first thought to have evolved. Punters would watch the action from the stands – i.e. courtside – and seek to take advantage of the fact that they were watching live, whilst other gambling participants would be watching on TV, via live streams, listening on the radio, or even making bets based on text or live score updates.

Being physically at the side of the court meant they were anywhere between a fraction of a second and up to 10 seconds (or even more sometimes) ahead of other punters, and even the bookies themselves. When done smoothly and efficiently, effectively this means that courtsiders can place bets on events after they have happened.

Viewed in that light, it would seem clear that there can only be one answer to the question, “does being at the match give you an edge over the bookies?” and that is an absolute and resounding “YES!”. We’ll look at that issue in more detail shortly but for now, let us explain more precisely how courtsiding works.

As said, it was first used in tennis but it can really be employed betting on just about any sport or event that has in-play wagering that is monitored offsite. In-play betting takes place live, during an event and depending on the sport there may be just one or two main markets or tens of them. Although betting exchanges, such as Betfair, work slightly differently from a traditional bookmaker, when it comes to in-play betting and courtsiding, the key point is the same with both.

What really matters is that control over the odds and markets is largely held by people who are watching the event on TV at best and monitoring official scoring data or using live streams at worst. So, the bookies, or in the case of an exchange, much of the money in the market, is behind someone actually attending the event. Let us consider tennis to illustrate exactly how a courtsider might seek to use their advantage.

What Does a Courtsider Do?

There are many in-play markets offered in tennis, with match odds, game and set betting and various specials but the best ones for betting on tennis are who will win the next point (if you can find that market) and who will win the game. Let’s suppose Novak Djokovic is 40-15 ahead against Rafa Nadal and serving to the win the game. His odds to win the next game may be 1/5 (this is just an example, of course, the exact odds will vary on the precise situation and nature of the game).

A price of 1/5 may not be the most appealing for the average punter but what about for someone who knows that Djokovic has already won the game? In such a scenario, you are talking about a risk-free 20% return and that is the sort of situation a courtsider is looking for. Returning to our game, let’s say that Djokovic slams an ace down the middle of the court.

At that very second, the courtsider, or more typically a member of the team, will back Djokovic to win the game at 1/5. The market will remain open until the bookie sees that Djokovic has won and crucially this will be a number of seconds after the ace is served. Even the fastest TV service is slightly delayed, whilst live streams are even worse.

What’s more, bookies will not necessarily have someone watching every game and may rely on official score information or automated, or semi-automated, systems. Courtsiders have been known to specifically target chair umpires that are slow to announce the scores with the added second, or even a fraction of a second, buying the team just enough time to get their bets on before the market is closed.

In fact, one courtsider revealed on national TV (see the link to the documentary below) how they cashed in when an umpire actually managed to lock themselves out of their scoring device. This meant that each time they wanted to officially update the score they had to enter their password or personal ID number … all the while giving courtsiders valuable seconds to get their bets away!

Similar tactics and weaknesses can be sought in a range of sports in different ways. However, ultimately the principle is the same: the courtsider is betting on an event with advanced knowledge of the current state of play and ideally once the outcome has actually been decided.

You can learn more about courtsiding in a very good BBC documentary called Can You Beat The Bookies?. It features comedian, Lloyd Griffith, one-time star of Ladbrokes’ TV ads, who actually meets a seasoned courtsider and even takes part, turning around £800 into more than £3,000 in minutes. The gambler revealed he made a profit of around £300,000 after expenses so, once again, we’d say the answer to the title question is definitely yes!

Is Courtsiding Legal?

Tennis umpire
katatonia82 / Bigstockphoto.com

The issue of whether or not such activity is legal is very much a grey area. The laws vary from one country to another and Australia, in particular Melbourne (home, not coincidentally, to the Australian Open tennis tournament), have been quick to try and clamp down on courtsiding. There it is thought to contravene the Integrity In Sports Act and some in the UK claim it breaches the 2005 Gambling Act and possibly other laws surrounding deception.

In 2015, a British man was arrested at the Australian Open in relation to courtsiding. This was back in 2015, and of course in Australia; however, he was ultimately released without charge. He made history as the first person known to be arrested for such an “offence” but Aussie Chris Eaton, then director of sports integrity at the International Centre for Sports Security, said that courtsiding was not a major concern.

He argued that “Courtsiding should be criminalised but the fact is it’s a very minor issue compared to match-fixing and the corrupting of sports organisations in South-East Asia.” And this is the point about courtsiding: it does not alter results or impact the integrity or honesty of a sport. It is chiefly an issue between punters and other punters, and between punters and bookies. Largely, for this reason, it remains a grey area, legally speaking. That said, as far as we are aware there has still not been anyone convicted for undertaking betting in this way, which would rather suggest it lies at the whiter side of grey.

Bookies, Venues & Sporting Authorities Act

Whilst courtsiding may not be illegal, anyone undertaking it will certainly have to breach terms of their tickets and the host venue and will also be quickly limited or banned by the bookmaker too. In 2020, a Spanish tennis player was found guilty of courtsiding, suspended and fined. However, the key point is that this was not a legal issue but one between Gerard Joseph Platero Rodriguez, an unranked player, and the Tennis Integrity Unit.

Likewise, courtsiders being ejected from venues is not uncommon. In the early days of this, in our opinion, very clever, but ethically questionable pursuit, people would openly take laptops, tablets and mobiles into events. Now taking such devices, mobiles aside, into most sporting events is prohibited, with the tickets clearly stating this is the case and also that bets must not be placed from inside the stadium.

Courtsiders have to be far more discreet and typically use concealed communication devices to relay very simple information to members of their team. Usually, the person actually at the venue is a relatively low paid part of the operation, with the brains, money and power working away from the actual danger of being caught. The person watching the event may use a custom-made device to send information in code, or they may use a disguised earpiece to verbally send the required data.

Whatever they do, however, most venues are now fully aware of what courtsiding is. Stewards, police and other staff know what to look for and at some events, such as the Grand Slams in tennis, event organisers employ specialist spotters. Anyone suspected of courtsiding will be investigated and usually removed and blacklisted.

Banning Those Who Win Large Sums

Of course, quite how much interest sporting and stadia authorities have in doing this is questionable. After all, why do they care if a punter wins money from a bookie or a fellow gambler? Well, of course, there is a sense of fair play and, more importantly, the issue that so many sports are reliant on bookmakers for sponsorship. Even so, in many ways, the first line of defence against courtsiders are the bookies themselves.

Unfair as it may seem, bookmakers are very quick to ban winning players. They want punters that lose, not those that win. Of course, the occasional win is fine and they even regular bookie bashings will be tolerated as long as they do not think a customer has gained a genuine edge. However, when it comes to someone wagering large sums of cash on a relatively obscure market, alarm bells will ring.

Courtsiders can win thousands of pounds from a single match and given the nature of the bets it should be relatively easy for the algorithms and technology the bookies use to spot such betting patterns. Most people who courtside will see their accounts limited very quickly and then ultimately closed not long after that.

Betting Exchanges

There are a few ways that people get around this issue. The easiest and only entirely legal one is to only place bets with a betting exchange. Betfair and other exchanges do not limit or ban customers as it is not their money at stake. However, exchanges do not necessarily offer the markets needed for courtsiding and if they do, there may be limited liquidity and/or other exponents of the tactic fighting for what liquidity there is.

Multiple Accounts

The more common way to get around the issue is through the use of multiple accounts. Obviously, it is entirely legal for one individual to have accounts with every single online bookie going. There are literally hundreds and whilst some are far from elite and are not necessarily places we would completely trust, the vast majority are safe enough. It is also legal, or close enough, for a person to use accounts in their children’s or parents’ names, as long as everyone is in agreement of how this is done. Equally, a courtsiding “team” or syndicate, could use accounts in the names of all their different members and probably be deemed to be bending bookmaker rules at the worst.

However, what courtsiders, professional gamblers and other advantage players sometimes do goes further than this. Anybody who can easily work their way through several online betting accounts in a single afternoon needs more than just their mum and Uncle Bob on board. What serious players do is “buy” tens and even hundreds of accounts in bulk.

This is another layer of the shady world of courtsiding and pro betting and getting control of large numbers of accounts can be organised in different ways. Typically, the person whose name and details are being used are aware of what is going on and they are paid for their function. As such, this is rarely a type of fraud that the police have any interest in pursuing, but it is certainly a very clear breach of many of the bookies’ terms and conditions.

Does Courtsiding Still Pay?

UK GBP

There is a (possibly apocryphal) story about how Joe Kennedy avoided the stock market crash of 1929. A shoeshine boy was said to be giving him tips for the stock exchange and Kennedy is believed to have thought that once things have got to that point the market is clearly overheated and due a serious correction.

In a vaguely similar way, it is quite possible that by the time the general public, or even a typical recreational gambler, hears of a betting system, loophole or scam (we’ll let you choose the term), it is essentially “over”. Once the cat is out of the bag the loopholes quickly close, bookies tighten up their systems and cashing in becomes harder and harder until it is eventually all but impossible.

So, the question is, is that where we are when it comes to courtsiding? Is the party over or is there still cash to be made? Well, to say the party is over would certainly be incorrect but it is perhaps fair to say that the volume of the music has been turned down a little and some of the guests are a little worse for wear.

Many people are still courtsiding and making excellent money but there is no doubt that it is harder than it was, say, five years ago. If nothing else, that is simply because more people are doing it, which means more punters competing for the same odds. Equally, because more people are doing it, venues are more aware, as are bookies, as mentioned above. The steps they have taken have made it more and more difficult but there is no doubt that it still takes place (there is the case mentioned above from as recently as 2020 that proves that).

As well as closing accounts, monitoring betting patterns, and trying to make the use of multiple accounts more difficult (by requiring greater ID and verification and also by technological means), bookies have also increased the delay before in-play bets are confirmed. This makes courtsiding in some sports, and on some markets, virtually impossible.

However, there are still occasions when it is still viable and so, whilst it is undoubtedly harder than it used to be, there really can be no doubt that – for some – courtsiding remains a very profitable activity. As such, there is equally no doubt that it can give you a major edge over bookies.

Courtsiding at Other Events

Golfer swinging club

Courtsiding is the generic name for placing bets as described above but, as said, this can be used to profit betting on most sports. Sometimes a slightly different name is used in a given sport, for example tracksiding, is often used when we talk about betting at live horse or dog racing.

Horse & Dog Racing

Tracksiding began at around the same time as courtsiding and in the earliest days people could quite openly wait for a horse to fall at a fence before quickly laying it (backing against it winning). Some people would even pay for a box at races knowing that the privacy it offered – not to mention the excellent broadband – meant they could place bets quickly and easily.

The authorities soon cottoned on to these tactics but those wanting to take advantage of being live found more subtle ways to essentially do the same thing, with some even hiding at the course or watching on from afar.

Golf

In more modern times, and in other sports as well, drones have been used, whilst binoculars and other long-range viewing devices can be put to use if one can find the right vantage point. This can be especially useful for betting on golf; for example, if you are the first to see that a golfer has sunk a putt or hit the ball very close to the hole.

Whilst one shot is typically less crucial in golf, at the business end of a tournament it can prove decisive. Even relatively early on a player lining up a certain eagle on a par five, for example, can have a big impact on the prices. What’s more, because there are so many players competing at different holes at the same time, the lag between a shot being hit and being shown on TV can be huge, giving courtsiders, or greensiders, ample opportunity to profit.

Snooker

Snooker is another sport that has been targeted, with gangs able to take advantage of big swings in in-play odds that can occur many times during a single frame. Any missed shot or bad positional play can see favouritism switch in an instant and give those betting on it an easy chance to secure a guaranteed profit on the frame.

Cricket

Cricket is another sport in which courtsiders may be able to make easy money. There is a range of in-play markets, such as the number of runs that will be scored in a certain period, be that within a single over or within five overs, or how many runs a given batsman might make. For example, a line bet on runs in the first five overs will move significantly if a player hits a boundary or a six.

Someone observing the action live may know within a fraction of a second of a ball being hit that it is going for six. At that stage, they can make their bet, knowing that the umpire will not officially reward the six for another second or so and that this will not be relayed to bookies or shown on TV for a few seconds more.

So, whilst courtsiding is no doubt more difficult than it was, the ways in which such tactics can be used are plentiful. Technological advances help the bookies and the authorities but they also help the cunning punter too and we suspect this game of cat and mouse will be here to stay for a good while yet. Then, of course, there are all the new methods and systems no doubt being plotted and schemed, ones that we are yet to hear about as they are yet to become widespread… we’re all ears if anyone wants to share their secrets!