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.
How Online Casinos Work – The Basics
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 expressed as a percentage of your deposit up to a certain maximum.
Here’s one 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.
What If I Want to Withdraw My Money Soon After Making My Deposit?
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 or the rollover.
In the case of the casino in the example I’m using, it’s a 25X rollover requirement.
How does that work exactly?
Let’s look at an example:
You deposit $1000. You get $1000 in bonus money, so you have $2000 in funds.
25 X $2000 = $50,000
You have to 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.
In the above example, where you need to wager $50,000, let’s assume you’re going to play blackjack. The best blackjack game at this casino has a house edge of only 0.5%.
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.
But There’s Another Catch
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.
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.
Games that Apply Discounted Wagers toward the Rollover 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 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.
Other Casinos and Other 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.
So What Good Are Online Casino Bonuses?
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.