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Open 'courtsiders' are gambling with lengthy sentences

It used to be said that Australians would bet on two flies going up a wall but events at the Australian Open yesterday proved that, if you are going to have a gamble on tennis, you had better be doing it legally.

A 22-year-old man from Great ­Britain was arrested by police at Melbourne Park for "courtsiding" and charged with "engaging in conduct that would corrupt a betting outcome". Under new Victoria state rules, he could be jailed for up to 10 years.

"Courtsiding" usually entails someone watching a match live and using an electronic device to send live scores and statistics to another person, often abroad, who is then able to bet.

Bookmakers use the official live scores or television pictures to update their in-running markets but, because there is a delay of several seconds before they receive them, courtsiders can get their information out first and bet, at inflated odds. As at the three other grand slam events - including Wimbledon - Australian Open organisers employ "spotters" to find these "courtsiders" and have them removed.

As they often keep their hands in their pockets to transmit the information without being detected, "courtsiders" can often be located because they are not clapping during a match, and it is that which sets them apart from other spectators. Police are intending to hold a press conference this morning to give more information about the arrest, which happened at 5.25pm on the opening day of the tournament.

In recent years, the Association of Tennis Professionals and Women's Tennis Association Tours have sought to close this time-lag by appointing a private firm to be their global distributor of official live scoring, and selling them to the bookmakers.

While it ought to have reduced the delay in getting the scores and statistics to bookmakers, it also happens to earn the ATP and WTA Tours considerable money. The ATP has been criticised in the past because a number of its tournaments allow gambling companies to sponsor them, even though gambling on site is not allowed.

Yesterday's arrest will chime with many in an era when illegal betting and match-fixing is proving to be incredibly hard to stop.

In 2008, the Tennis Integrity Unit was set up to reduce the frequency of these incidents and several players have fallen foul of a rule banning them from betting on any match on the Tour. A number of players have been implicated and investigated over possible match-fixing, which seems to be more prevalent at the lower end of the Tour, where prize-money is low and attention is scant.

There are some who would argue that gaining an edge over a bookmaker, by using courtsiders, is a legitimate thing to do and that it should not be a criminal offence. Players are told they must report any illegal approach to them offering them money to throw a match or influence the outcome of a match.

The ban on betting extends to the accredited media on-site, the idea being that they may come to learn something from a coach or player and that they would therefore be able to get an unfair advantage in placing a bet.

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Football

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