Australia: Spectator charged for involvement in “courtsiding” at Australian Open

The Australian tennis open is the scene for what Victoria Police have claimed is the world’s first arrest for the sports betting offence of “courtsiding” with the charging of a British spectator under section 195C of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic).

“Courtsiding” involves providing information to an accomplice who then places spot bets on particular outcomes, such as the outcome of a particular point, seconds before betting closes. It generally exploits delays between live play and international television broadcasts.

It is alleged that the spectator used a device attached to his mobile phone in order to send live match data to an overseas betting agency. He has been bailed and is due to appear before the Magistrates Court again next week.

The State of Victoria only introduced section 195C into the Crimes Act in 2013. The section provides that:

 A person must not engage in conduct that corrupts or would corrupt a betting outcome of an event or event contingency—

 (a)   knowing that, or being reckless as to whether, the conduct corrupts or would corrupt a betting outcome of the event or the event contingency; and

 (b)   intending to obtain a financial advantage, or to cause a financial disadvantage, in connection with any betting on the event or the event contingency.

The section is broad it its nature and captures a wide variety of conduct including match-fixing. It carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. Most other Australian jurisdictions have also taken steps to introduce similar criminal offences in line with their commitment under the National Policy on Match Fixing in Sport (Policy).  The Commonwealth and state and territory governments  that developed the Policy in 2011 to “preserve the integrity of one of Australia’s greatest assets – our national sporting heritage”.

This is the second instance of charges being laid under section 195C following the charges laid in relation to match-fixing activities associated with the semi-professional Southern Stars Football Club of the Victorian Premier League. In that matter, the coach, four players and the alleged syndicate ringleader were charged with offences. While two of the players have plead guilty and been issued with the fines, the remainder of the charges are still before the court.

 The Deputy Commissioner of the Victorian Police, Graham Ashton has advised other individuals thinking of engaging in “courtsiding” at the Australian Open to “think again”. The Victorian Police will be monitoring both CCTV and courtside activity throughout the remainder of the grand slam in order to prevent further illegal betting practices.

We will continue to follow this case and keep you updated as it proceeds through the court system.

Co-authored by Judith Miller, Partner, DLA Piper and Jaimie Wolbers, Solicitor, DLA Piper.