If you’re brand-new to online casino gambling, you probably wonder about how online casino bonuses work. Every time you visit an internet casino, you see promises of free money just for signing up.
But how do the casinos stay in business giving away free money to new depositors?
It’s easier than you might think.
This post has been completely update for 2023.
How Online Casino Bonuses Work Explained
The basic idea behind an online casino bonus is this:
You make your first deposit. The casino gives you extra money in your account as a bonus–to incentivize you to sign up and make a deposit.
These bonuses are usually a percentage of your deposit up to a certain maximum.
Here’s an example from a prominent online casino:
The property offers a 100% bonus of up to $1000 on your first deposit.
You make a deposit of $1000 with a credit card, and the casino puts an extra $1000 into your account. You now have $2000 you can gamble with.
Also, this particular casino allows you to claim this bonus on your first 3 deposits. They tout it, therefore, as a $3000 signup bonus for new players–even though it’s really 3 smaller bonuses of $1000 each.
What happens if you can’t afford to deposit $1000, though?
Suppose you only have $250 to deposit?
The casino still offers you a 100% matching amount, so you’d deposit $250 and get an extra $250 added to your account.
Types of Online Casino Bonuses
You have multiple types of online casino bonuses available. I describe the most common categories below:
No Deposit Bonuses
No deposit bonuses are the easiest category of bonus to understand. Here’s how no deposit bonuses work:
You sign up for a new, real-money account at the online casino in question. They credit your account with bonus money, and you don’t even need to make a deposit to get the bonus.
Some casinos automatically add the bonus to your account when you register.
Others want you to send them an email or fill out a form claiming your no deposit bonus.
Most no deposit bonuses are small, in the $5 to $50 range. They also come with multiple restrictions like playthrough requirements, which I explain later in this post. Other restrictions might include a maximum amount you can win. Some casinos even require you to make a deposit before cashing out your winnings, which defeats the purpose of a no deposit bonus, in my opinion.
I go into considerably more detail about no deposit casino bonuses later in this post.
You can also consider free spins on a slot machine game as a type of online casino bonus. Free spins are akin to no deposit bonuses. They usually include a number of free spins on a specific slot machine game.
You must make all the free spins before cashing out. Many times you’ll lose any winnings you might generate, but not always.
You cannot, however, make a single spin, win big, then cash out. You can easily see why.
The most common kind of online casino bonus is the match bonus. That’s the bonus I used in the example above in the section about how online casino bonuses work.
They’re simply promotions where the casino matches a specific percentage of your deposit with some bonus money. Several terms and conditions apply to match bonuses, the most important being playthrough requirements. I cover those in the next big section.
Free Money Bonuses
Free money bonuses are promotions where you get a flat bonus amount regardless of the size of your deposit. For example, a casino might offer a $100 free money bonus.
The casino might have a minimum deposit of $20 and a maximum bonus of $1000.
In either case, or any case in between, your bonus is $100.
Generally, you should make the minimum deposit with this kind of offer.
Most casino bonuses are sticky. This means that the bonus amount “sticks” to your account; you can’t withdraw it.
This means that you can only cash out your winnings above and beyond the amount of the bonus. Also, when you withdraw the money, the sticky bonus disappears. (Not really as sticky as you might think, huh?)
Sticky bonuses are usually large because they present little risk to the casinos.
Exclusive bonuses are bonuses that are only available through a specific site’s referral link. I don’t have any exclusive bonuses on this site yet, but I aspire to be able to offer some.
An exclusive bonus can fall into any of the other categories above.
Online casinos, like their land-based counterparts, award points to their regular players. Gain enough points (by making wagers), and you “level up.”
Loyalty bonuses are rewards to existing players. The higher your level is with the casino in question, the better your rewards tend to bne.
These often have similar wagering requirements to other types of bonuses.
How Do Wagering Requirements, Rollovers, and Playthrough Requirements Work?
10 years ago, I had a friend who made quite a bit of money by signing up for online casinos, taking advantage of their bonuses, and cashing out his profits. After playing at 9 or 10 casinos, he’d won enough money to buy himself a jukebox.
The chances of accomplishing that in today’s online casino environment are practically non-existent.
You see, all online casino bonuses come with a proviso:
You must wager your deposit and the bonus amount a certain number of times before you’re allowed to cash out.
This is called the wagering requirement, the rollover, or the playthrough.
In the case of the casino in the example I’m using, it’s a 25X rollover requirement.
How does that work?
Here’s an example:
You deposit $1000. You get $1000 in bonus money, so you have $2000 in funds.
25 X $2000 = $50,000
You must place $50,000 in wagers before cashing out.
That might sound like it’s completely impossible to clear, but remember that a wager counts whether you win or lose. If you bet $100 on a spin of the slots reels and win $3000, you only have $49,900 in wagers to make before you have to cash out.
Couldn’t I Get a Positive Expectation by Playing Low House Edge Games?
Smart gamblers know how to calculate their expected loss on a proposition. You just multiply the total amount wagered by the house edge.
Your expected loss on $50,000 with a house edge of 0.5% is $250.
Since the house edge is a theoretical prediction based on a large number of bets, you’d wager as little per hand as possible. The more hands you play, the likelier you are to get results resembling the mathematical projections.
If you start with a bankroll of $2000 and lose $250, you have $1750 left over. Since you only deposited $1000, your expected profit is $750.
Your actual results will vary, because even 10,000 bets at $5 each might show some statistical deviation.
But this is a positive expectation situation. Advantage gamblers love these kinds of deals.
There’s Another Catch: Some Games Don’t Count
Most casinos only allow certain casino games to count toward fulfilling your wagering requirements. As you might guess, these are games which have a higher house edge than 0.5%.
In the case of our example casino, they only count slot machine and specialty games toward your wagering requirements. Specialty games include keno and scratch off lottery tickets. This is a common restriction, in fact.
The house edge on those games varies, but it’s safe to say on the slot machines that the house edge is probably at least 5%.
On keno and scratch off lottery tickets, it’s probably closer to 20%.
That changes the equation quite a bit.
The expected loss on $50,000 in wagers when you’re dealing with a 5% house edge is $2500.
Your total bankroll is $2000, so you’re looking at an expected loss that exceeds your bankroll.
Some Games Apply Discounted Wagers toward the Rollover or Playthrough Requirement
Some other games do count toward your rollover requirements, but at a discounted rate.
At our example casino, most of the games count 60% of your wagers toward your wagering requirement. These games include video poker, blackjack, and baccarat.
But the versions of blackjack with the lowest house edge–the single deck blackjack games–only count 5% toward your wagering requirement.
How does that affect the math?
Let’s assume that the blackjack game in question has a house edge of 1.5%. You’re required to make $50,000 in wagers, but since these wagers only count at 60%, you really have to make $83,333.33 in wagers before cashing out.
Your expected loss on that much wagering, at a 1.5% house edge, is $1250.
$2000 – $1250 = $750
You’ll have money left after fulfilling your wagering requirements, but not enough to show a profit.
More Example Casinos and Offers
The examples I used in this post are from just one casino. Other casinos have other offers with their own restrictions. You should read the terms and conditions on any promotional offer you take before getting too excited about it.
Here’s another example that sounds too good to be true:
It’s a casino that offers you $85 in free money with no deposit required.
In other words, all you have to do is download the casino, register a real money account, and start playing.
What are the requirements on this deal?
First of all, the maximum amount you’re allow to win and cash out with this offer is $100.
So forget about a big payday at the progressive slots.
Second, they require you to wager that $85 30 times before cashing out–if you’re playing slots. If you’re playing any other game (table games or video poker), you’re looking at a rollover requirement of 60 times.
If you stick with slots, you have to make $2550 in wagers before cashing out.
Again, assuming a 5% house edge, you’re looking at an expected loss of $127.50, which is well over your $85 bankroll.
If you play table games, you have to wager $5100 before cashing out. Most table games have a house edge of around 3%, so you’re looking at expected losses of $153.
Even if you play a game with a house edge of only 1%, you’re looking at expected losses of $51. If you started with $85, your net profit is only $34.
That’s hardly worth your time if you look at it on an hourly wage basis.
How Online Casino Bonuses Work: Conclusion
I might sound like I have a negative opinion of online casino bonuses.
That is not the case.
I think online casino bonuses are great. Here’s why:
Online casino gambling is a negative expectation gambling activity. If you play casino games long enough, you’ll eventually go broke. That’s how casino games work.
The best way to think about playing online casino games for real money is that it’s an entertainment expense.
How much that entertainment costs should be your primary concern.
When you get the amount of your deposit doubled, you get twice as much action. This means you’re getting double the entertainment for your money than you would have otherwise.
If you’re looking for a way to get an advantage over a casino, you’re in for a hard life. Yeah, you can count cards, but you can’t do that online.
But with the right attitude, online casino bonuses can increase the amount of time you get to play at your favorite site.
And that’s how online casino bonuses work.