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The Courtsiding Issue

With the current media obsession on gambling and fixing, the latest story to hit the headlines is that of Daniel Dobson, a British man that was arrested at the Australian Open for ‘courtsiding’. As often seems to be the case with the issue of betting on sport, the media’s perception of the issue has been regularly misleading, and often factually incorrect.

The Victoria Police released a statement on Wednesday afternoon stating that “police have arrested and charged a man at the Australian Open for ‘courtsiding’, a form of court side betting that involves placing bets on point outcomes throughout a match. He was charged with one count of engaging in conduct that would corrupt a betting outcome.”

There are a number of problems with this initial police statement. Firstly, ‘courtsiding’ does not involve placing bets on point outcomes. This is because bookmakers do not allow betting on the current point, or even the next point, because they know about the potential advantage that people at the event may have. While a number of bookmakers do allow point betting, it is only for the point after the next point (i.e. if the players are currently playing the 2nd point of the game, bookmakers will only allow you to bet on the 4th point of the game). The man arrested was also not actually placing bets himself, rather he was transmitting information back to someone else.

However, just as importantly, there is no way that sending point information, or even betting courtside, could possibly be seen as ‘engaging in conduct that would corrupt a betting outcome’. Indeed, early reports wrote about how it is a small step from ‘courtsiding’ to inducing players to fix matches, which is quite simply absurd.

The umpire himself is sending point data out to bookmakers and any clients of Enetpulse. Other companies will also often send a scout to tournaments to provide point streams to clients, whether they be bookmakers, syndicates or private individuals. Nobody has ever accused them of looking to corrupt betting outcomes. The arrested man was simply doing exactly what they also do.

Eurosport included a paragraph stating that “courtsiding invariably involves a syndicate, with a spectator using an electronic device to send a signal to another person at another location to place a bet on the outcome of a particular incident at a sporting event. The bet is placed before legitimate betting agencies are able to close off wagering on a specific event.”

As we have already seen, you cannot bet on specific outcomes like this, but we shall focus on the second sentence. It is quite simply not true that the bet can be placed before bookmakers can close off wagering on these events. Not only do bookmakers generally apply a delay to in-play bet placement to cover themselves against any potential delay, but they also have access to point streams.

Enetpulse, as mentioned earlier, provide point streams direct from the umpire’s chair to bookmakers, allowing bookmakers to record points and suspend any relevant markets almost immediately. The National Post in America ‘informs’ its readers that “he was exploiting the seconds-long delay between the on-court action and “live” television broadcast to defraud bookmakers.”

The idea that bookmakers simply watch matches on TV with a 7-8 second broadcast delay is simply absurd. Believe it or not, bookmakers are sophisticated businesses and they use services such as Enetpulse to get point data direct from the umpire’s chair, so there is no delay for this supposed ‘criminal’ to exploit.

The National Post continue to explain that “police alleged that he was part of a gambling syndicate and flew into the city especially for the Australian Open.” Finally, they have got something correct. He was indeed part of a gambling syndicate and he did indeed fly into the city especially for the Australian Open.

However, the media have this impression that gambling syndicates are evil groups, whose sole purpose is to fix sporting events for their own profit. Again, this is simply not true. The majority of gambling syndicates are not that dissimilar to hedge funds, in that they use sophisticated mathematical algorithms to look to beat the market. The idea that their employees sneak around fixing matches, then being stupid enough to sit courtside, is more nonsense spouted by an ignorant media.

Syndicates are generally organisations using complex techniques to analyse data. Their employees are often highly qualified programmers, statisticians and analysts that work hard to develop advanced models to earn profit for the business. This could just as easily describe a hedge fund or large investment bank investing, or ‘gambling’, on the stock market or currency markets. The image of syndicates that is portrayed by the media in their poorly-researched, ignorant dystopia is just plain wrong.

Indeed, in high-frequency stock trading, speed of access to data is critical, to the point where firms move their servers physically closer to data centres to minimise the split second that the data takes to get into their models. The idea that this practice, known as collocation, should be illegal is ridiculous, but in reality, there is little difference between this and providing point data from courtside.

With the advancement in technology, the opportunity for syndicates and intelligent gamblers to use sophisticated models and instantaneous data to create an advantage over the ‘everyday punter’ is greater. In trying to make ‘courtsiding’ illegal shows a gross misunderstanding from authorities as to how the gambling industry really works and simply acts to dissuade advancement.

Returning to the situation of Daniel Dobson, it is ludicrous that he has even been arrested. He has done nothing wrong under the new Victoria laws. Rather, it is a concerning lack of understanding from the authorities that are responsible for implementing them. I would be amazed and appalled if he were found guilty of any charges of corruption and I can’t help but feel that the Victoria Police and the media are going to look very foolish in the near future.

Gambling is often portrayed in a negative light by the media, often backed up with misleading opinions presented as facts and a clear lack of knowledge, understanding or willingness to learn from journalists. While I am perfectly willing to accept that some people do not approve of gambling, the way that the issues, particularly surrounding fixing and corruption, have been presented in the media are nothing short of disgraceful.


  1. Very interesting - I never would have known. PD.

  2. Finally someone reporting on this who actually knows what they are talking about

  3. Excellent article Ian

  4. Pretty farcical from most of the media. No respect for people or their reputations. Let's fast forward a few months and I can see a few law suits against certain slanderous people/institutions. - Sidney

  5. i know what is courtsiding and how it is done. i think that Daniel was placing bets from stadium . he was not sending points information he was just pressing a button on his device to place bets.

    1. how is it done?! i wouldnt mind getting into it if your actually legit about knowing it!

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