“Courtsiding” is the art of attending a sporting event with the express purpose of placing bets ahead of the televised coverage reaching viewers at home and therefore gaining an advantage.
It has been most widely used in tennis, hence the term “court-siding,” but has been used in other sports as well.
The practice became common after the founding of exchanges like Betfair who were alot less likely to try and prevent people from doing it than traditional bookmakers.
However, in recent years there have been notable crackdowns against the practice and Betfair has become more vigilant in implementing measures to safeguard fairness.
So the question is, does courtsiding still work and perhaps more significantly, should it even be allowed?
What Is Courtsiding?
Courtsiding involves attending a sporting event with the express purpose of placing a bet as quickly as possible as events unfold, to gain an advantage over the vast majority of other punters who are watching on TV.
In the early days courtsiding was carried out with people sat in the crowd using laptops to place bets directly themselves, but due to authorities cracking down on the practice it is now primarily operated via syndicates, with the courtsider pressing a button on a phone to alert someone elsewhere to place a bet.
Its name implies association with tennis (i.e. being “by the side of the court”), but the practice has also been used widely in other sports including horse racing and football.
It was particularly prevalent in the early years of Betfair at jumps meetings in horse racing for example, with rows of people with laptops laying horses who had just fallen, seconds before the rest of the market would see it happen on TV.
There are reports some people were placing large bets in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars using this practice, gaining a significant advantage on all the other people betting on the event.
The practice was even given something of a romantic feel by people like Brad Hutchins, whose book “Game, Set and Cash” chronicled his globe-trotting adventures as a courtsider, filled with tales of fun and intrigue whilst making money simply by pressing a button on his phone at tennis matches.
Is Courtsiding Legal?
The question of whether courtsiding is legal is a thorny one. Essentially it is not actually illegal in most countries, although is illegal in Australia under the Integrity in Sports Act and offenders could face serious prison time.
In most countries though whilst it is not actually illegal, the authorities of sporting events take a dim view of it and are increasingly cracking down.
Most tennis events now employ “spotters” to see if anyone is courtsiding and if so, to eject them from the event. In the USA it has been reported that courtsiders have been arrested for “trespassing” after being banned from events previously.
Wimbledon in particular has been noted for having a zero-tolerance attitude towards courtsiders, with offenders being caught very quickly and banned for life.
The ATP and WTA Tours have also become increasingly vigilant, seeing it as an infringement of the rights to data they have negotiated with various providers and requiring umpires to enter scores into their tablets immediately after points are won to reduce the advantage of courtsiders.
The effect of all this has been to make courtsiding in tennis much more difficult and those wishing to do it have to do so as secretly as possible.
Many have decided the hassle is not worth it and some have even declared that courtsiders are a dying breed – certainly when it comes to tennis at least.
What About “Pitch-siders” or “Green-Siders”
Tennis presented the most obvious choice for people wanting to get ahead of the betting game due to its liquidity, the volatility of odds – which can shift hugely from point to point – and being able to sit in a settled position very close to the action.
As described above though, that also made it a target for crackdowns by the authorities and now it is becoming more challenging to courtside in tennis.
Other sports may present better opportunities now for live event betting. What about someone betting live at football matches for example (a “pitch-sider?”) or a “green-sider” – someone betting live at a golf event.
A lot less is known about courtsiding in sports other than tennis. Someone at football would no doubt face the same problems of being spotted as in tennis, unless they were lucky enough to be in the media box or another private box for example.
And supposedly racecourses are increasingly clamping down on the practice in horse racing, pushing for bans on all exchange trading at racetracks.
Betfair for its part has made the practice more difficult too by operating longer time delays on bets being placed, thus reducing the potential advantage of courtsiders. On some football matches from South America for example delays can be as much as 10 seconds, obviating the potential of pitch-siders to benefit.
Courtsiding is of course also more difficult in a sport like football where Betfair suspends the action when there is a goal, penalty or red card.
In reality courtsiding may be more of an option in sports like golf where monitoring crowd activity isn’t so easy with people moving around all the time and action going on across multiple holes simultaneously. A team of people could potentially coordinate to cover a number of holes at once, as TV cannot show everything at the same time or may not show some lesser names’ shots at all. Doing this successfully though would require quite some coordination and often there is not the liquidity in golf events to make it viable.
Where to Now for Courtsiders?
With authorities increasingly cracking down on the practice and Betfair operating longer time delays on in-play bet placement, many have concluded that courtsiding is a dying art.
Some would say this is welcome and courtsiding should never have been allowed in the first place. After all, why should someone be able to gain an advantage over everyone else just because they are able to attend an event? And the association of courtsiding with shady gambling syndicates and the like has not helped its reputation either.
On the other hand some people believe that as courtsiding is legal in most parts of the world it is legitimate for people to try and gain a small advantage if they are prepared to spend the time and money attending a sporting event to get maybe a second or two ahead of other punters. After all, there is no guarantee you will succeed even if you do manage to place live bets at an event.
Whatever your views on courtsiding however, it’s important if you are betting in-play to ensure you are not caught on the wrong side of it.
Often on sports like golf you will see the price move before a player has taken a shot. For example their price may drop just before they are about to hit a 10-foot putt – then of course they go on to hole it.
This may not be because of courtsiders directly, rather just that TV coverage in the US is slightly ahead of UK/Europe (or vice versa depending on where the event is being held), but either way it is important not to get caught out by being behind other punters.
If you are seeing this happening then it is best to wait until the end of the hole or after shots have been hit and the price has moved, not just before shots are hit.
Similarly that can apply to sports like cricket, in that you should wait until a boundary has been hit or a break between overs to place a bet rather than right before a bowler is about to bowl.
In the end it is probably impossible to eliminate courtsiding entirely but recently the practice has certainly been restricted, which we see as a good thing for the vast majority of punters who don’t bet live at the event.
Ultimately we want to see a level playing field for punters and those who succeed doing so on the basis of their dedication, skills and discipline rather than trying to gain an unfair advantage over other punters.
So if you do see someone at a tennis match pressing a button on their phone every time a point is won, might be worth mentioning it to one of the officials. After all, it’s our money they are trying to take – probably on behalf of a syndicate.