Sign-up bonuses, referral bonuses, free spins; online casinos offer incredible incentives to encourage you to play. However, it’s important to understand how all the bonuses work. Some online casino bonuses are a genuine win for you. Some have no value at all. Some are money-losers.
Types of Online Casino Bonuses
There are several types of online bonuses that may be offered to you:
- Welcome Bonuses
You receive a welcome bonus simply by signing up at the casino, and it’s often a generous amount of money. There are two varieties of Welcome Bonuses.
- A No-Deposit Bonus credits your account with the bonus without requiring that you deposit any money.
- A Match Deposit Bonus matches (or exceeds) your initial deposit.
- Deposit Bonuses
Deposit bonuses are not limited to the welcome bonuses. Some sites match all or part of each deposit you make up to your first two, three, or even ten deposits.
- Free Spins
Free spins are almost identical to welcome bonuses. The difference is that instead of scoring a matching deposit into your account, you receive a certain number of free spins on the online slots.\
- Referral Bonus
Referral bonuses are awarded by a casino when you convince someone else to join that online casino and that person indicates that you referred them.
- Cashback or Insurance Bonus
Cashback bonuses, or insurance bonuses, pay you a percentage of your net gaming losses for a single month, typically 5% to 20%.
- Comps Points and Cash Bonuses
Nearly all online casinos offer comp points or cash bonuses that reward you for frequent play. You win comps points with every wager, similar to a punch card at the ice cream stand. You then can convert those points into a cash bonus deposited to your account.
- Free Drawings
Some sites do regular drawings where one or more active members get a free bonus.
The Value of a Bonus
Take Note: Typically, the more restrictions and requirements placed on the bonus, the less the bonus is worth.
A $50 cashable bonus with no restrictions is worth $50. The bonus is your money.
A $4000 phantom bonus, after you figure in all the restrictions and requirements, might be worth $0 – or even less.
A bonus can be worth less than zero if the restrictions and requirements also apply to your money, not just the bonus money.
Cashable Bonuses Versus Phantom Bonuses
A cashable bonus is money deposited in your online casino account. It is your money. You can wager with it or withdraw it anytime once you’ve met the requirements.
A “phantom” bonus (or a “sticky” or “non-cashable” bonus) is the casino’s money, not yours. You can play with it, but you can’t have it. You can’t withdraw those funds from your account, and the amount you can win when you gamble it is restricted.
- Welcome Bonuses, Deposit Bonuses, Free Spins, and Referral Bonuses are almost always non-cashable bonuses. They are worth far less than they seem, often $0 or less.
- Cashback, comps, cash, and drawings bonuses are most often cashable bonuses or lightly restricted non-cashable bonuses.
Cashable bonuses come with no or very few restrictions and rules. The value of a cashable bonus is the amount of the bonus. Phantom bonuses come with lots of restrictions and rules that erode the real value of the bonus.
Take Note: The more money you have to deposit in order to receive the bonus – relative to the bonus amount – the less value you are likely to receive from the bonus.
Very few casinos will give you a bonus unless you have your own money on deposit. This sometimes even includes so-called “No-Deposit” bonuses.
If you’re serious about playing on the site, this isn’t a problem. After all, it’s best to wager with your own money, not the casino’s.
However, if the bonus includes restrictions on winnings, wagering, or withdrawals that also apply to your deposit, the bonus probably has a negative value. Skip those types of bonuses.
Restrictions on Winnings
Take Note: The cap on net bonus winnings is generally the maximum value of the bonus. Always look for bonuses without winnings restrictions.
Non-cashable bonuses often – but not always – come with caps on the total amount you can win from the bonus. These caps can be as low $50.
Non-cashable bonuses never let you withdraw the bonus itself, just the winnings. So the cap on bonus winnings is the maximum value of the bonus.
Chances are, though, you’ll lose the bonus without winning anything. So these caps are not an issue.
But suppose you get lucky? If you do get lucky with bonus money, anything you win over the winnings cap is a loss.
Let’s say you win $1,000 on a $2,000 bonus, but your winnings are capped at $100. The real value of the $2,000 bonus is $100 – the money you put in your bank. However, you have lost $900 by not wagering with your own money.
Wagering Requirements or Playthrough
Take Note: The value of a bonus is quickly eroded by wagering requirements. The lower the wagering requirement’s “multiple,” the higher the value of the bonus.
All non-cashable and most cashable bonuses require a minimum number of wagers that equals some multiple of the bonus amount, usually 30 to 40 times the bonus amount. Some bonus playthroughs are as low as 1x – that is, you have to wager an amount equal to the entire bonus. Some are as high as 60 times the bonus amount.
Any multiple below 15 times the bonus is a good deal. Take the bonus.
Any multiple above 25 times the bonus will probably mean you lose money. Unless you’re unusually lucky, use your own money.
Let’s calculate an example to demonstrate how this works.
- Suppose you receive a $1000 non-cashable Match Deposit bonus.
- The wagering requirement is 30 times the bonus. This is on the low end.
- That means you must wager $30,000 from that initial $1000 or you forfeit the bonus and any winnings.
- You use the bonus to play slots with an RTP of 96% at one dollar per spin.
- If your luck is average, you will be able to play roughly 24,500 times before you bet and lose your last dollar from your $1000 bonus.
- You will still be $5,500 short of your $30,000 playthrough requirement.
If you don’t meet the wagering requirements, you will lose the bonus. Many online casinos will then take the original bonus money from your deposit.
Keep in mind that most online casinos have playthrough requirements for your deposit, as well. They are a small multiple of your deposit – usually 1x – to prevent money laundering.
Wagering requirements always come with time limits. You typically have 30 to 90 days to meet the wagering requirements or you lose your bonus and your winnings.
Take Note: Usually, the more restrictions placed on the games you can wager on, the lower the value of the bonus.
Many online casinos restrict which games you can play with the bonus. When they do, they restrict you to games with the highest house advantage, like slots. They may also not allow you to play high-jackpot games.
Online casinos may restrict games by discounting wagers made to high RTP games. For instance, a slots app with a low RTP might contribute 100% of every wager to the wager requirements. A video poker app with a high RTP might contribute 10% of every wager to the requirements. A live craps game might contribute 0%.
A 10% discount means that you will have to wager 10 times the wager requirement. So a 30x playthrough requirement will be a 300x requirement on a game discounted to 10%.
Take Note: If you want to realize the full value of a bonus, you must thoroughly familiarize yourself with the site’s terms of conditions regarding bonus abuse.
The final consideration involves “bonus abuse,” the sometimes murky and often arbitrary set of rules that allows online casinos to revoke your bonus, take back your bonus winnings, take back all your winnings, or kick you off the site completely. Some of these rules are obvious, but some are so complex or vague that you may find yourself labeled an “abuser.”