Real Time Tennis Bettors Called “Courtsiders” Use Questionable Methods
In a week’s time, ATP and WTA tennis players will gather in Flushing Meadow, New York to open the 2015 U.S. Open. Serena Williams is going for a historic grand slam, which has not happened in women’s tennis since 1988. The Big Four of men’s tennis–Novak Djokavic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, and Rafael Nadal–will take court to salvage their year or put an exclamation point on 2015. They’ll be joined by Stan Wrawrinka, who is suddenly making a push to toss Nadal out of that four (if he hasn’t already done so).
A great deal of intrigue should surround the event in Flushing Meadow, just outside of New York City. What most spectators might not know is they could be sitting next to a new type of tennis viewer: the courtsider. If studies are correct, as many as 75 such courtside spectators might be in the stands.
They won’t be there enjoying the match as fans. Instead, they’ll be data harvesting.
What Is Courtsiding?
Most of those reading might not be familiar with the term. A new book by author Brad Hutchins details the practice of “courtsiding”, a controversial method used by high stakes gamblers to gain an advantage at real time tennis betting. The book by Hutchins, an Australian who used to “courtside” himself, is called “Game Set Cash! Inside the Secret World of International Tennis Trading”.
Mr. Hutchins details the life of these spectators, who are sent by sports gamblers to report details of a match while it is in progress. These men and women are armed with smartphones, which are hidden from the view of court staff and tennis officials. Using rudimentary signals, the courtsider sends messages back to the gambler about the progress of the match.
Helping Live Tennis Bettors Cheat
The idea behind the practice is that texting gets back to a bettor much faster than television or Internet transmissions. With the inception of live tennis betting, even a minute of foreknowledge is enough to allow gamblers to make a killing. They bet in real time, making a wager on a sure thing. The practice is threatening the integrity of the sport, though.
Brad Hutchins writes, “The match point is a gimme, That’s the only point during the match where you can bet after the fact and just take free money.”
When Courtsiders Helps
He continued that there is one other instance when a sureshots happen, though these are rarer. Hutchins stressed he did not engage in black hat courtsiding when he added, “Same goes with retirements [walkovers due to injury]–both morally questionable and not something I was involved with, but others were.”
Hutchins writes that he was part of a small group of spectators who traveled to pro tennis events for the sake of transmitting data to employers. To keep his texting secret, he had to sew his cellphone into his trouser pockets, then surreptitiously signal back to his client in London without being discovered.
Real Time Tennis Betting
His account in “Game Set Cash!” described how it was accomplished. He wrote, “You’d press one for [Novak] Djokovic, two for [Andy] Murray, for example, as fast as you could….The purpose of us being there is that we can send back information a lot faster than TV or betting companies can get the data.”
A report by Jack Anderson of Queen’s University in Belfast detailed the scope of the activity. The professor’s report stated, “The BBC investigation into courtsiders claimed that 75 people were at last year’s Wimbledon final, sending information back or betting on their own.”
“It further noted that the tennis authorities, principally through its Tennis Integrity Unit, have been trying to ‘weed out’ courtsiders for years, although tennis umpires apparently provide official score data which are used by betting companies.”
Tennis Federations Seek to Police Live Betting
Anderson compares the practice to high-frequency trading on the stock market. The researcher said that stock trading allows for those with up-to-the-minute information and a fast computer to make money simply by making trades fastest. The same method can be used for courtsiding, in which “a microsecond advantage can translate into profit.”
The same advantage can be achieved on the court. The ATP, WTA, and ITF (which runs the four Grand Slams) have been trying to police events, sending spotters to locate and throw out courtsiders they find. That is why tennis fans might see signs around the complexes which say “Match scores may not be continuously collected…during match play…for gambling purposes.”
Various permutations of that sign are now seen as the US Open, French Open, Australian Open, and Wimbledon.
Australian Open Arrest
What makes the practice wilder is the fact some sportsbooks are now sending their courtsiders. These people are sent to report back to the bookmaker businesses in real time, to protect the integrity of their wagers. One such employee was arrested at the 2014 Australian Open.
At that tournament, officials spotted a British man, Daniel Dobson, 22, who was known for transmitting real-time data back to London. He was arrested, which prompted his employer, Sportingdata, to release a statement saying he was not there for the sake of corruption. The man later was released.
Attempts to Stop Courtsiding
Jorge Salkeld, the SVP of the global sports management firm Octagon, said that the practice is driving the tennis organizations into partnership with the bookmaker sites. Salkeld told ESPN, “A few years ago (2012), the WTA and ATP got together and collectively moved to control, gather and distribute real-time data. They did it in a way where the money was collected and pooled so it would go back to the tournaments and players.”
Despite the strategic alliance to better sync tournament data with the sportsbetting operators, courtsiding continues. As always, the side which processes its data the quickest succeeds that day. If high rollers can get their information fastest, they can win a lot of free money.
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