Beginner's Guide to Casino Bonuses

Unlike land-based casinos, there are no geographic restrictions preventing you from moving your money from one online casino to the next. So in order to attract customers, the casinos make various cash and non-cash offers, known as casino bonuses. For example a casino may offer a 100% bonus on your first deposit. This means that they will double your money when you first sign up and play. Sound too good to be true? A lot of the time it is.

Deposit bonuses and welcome bonuses

So what does this mean exactly? It is quite simple - deposit $100 and the casino will credit your account with another $100 "free", leaving you with $200 to play with. Now here is the catch - you are then required to wager a certain amount of money before you are allowed to withdraw the bonus. This is known as a wagering requirement.

For example a casino may state that you must wager 30 times the bonus amount before you are allowed to cash out. Here at Casino Listings we would state that requirement as 30xB. So in our $100 example, a 30xB requirement means you have to wager $3000 before you are allowed to withdraw your money. Remember wagers are cumulative; you don't have to bet $3000 in one go. So each time you make a 50c spin, or a $1 bet, it adds up and contributes towards satisfying the wagering requirements.

Some casinos will state their wagering requirements as a multiple of the sum of both the deposit and bonus (e.g. 30x deposit and bonus). This is a trick used to make the wagering requirement appear lower than they really are. For example, 30x (deposit + bonus) on a 100% bonus is actually equivalent to 60xB. At Casino Listings we help you avoid these traps by always list the wagering requirements on bonuses as a multiple of only the bonus amount. This makes the various offers directly and easily comparable.

We have a ranked list of the best casino sign-up bonuses available here.

It's a Trap?

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As the online casino industry has matured over the years, the appeal of the bonus offers made to players has tended to decline. The wagering requirements have increased and the list of games you are allowed to play when claiming a bonus has decreased. The reason for this is twofold: smart gamblers and casino operators unable to perform simple mathematics. Years ago players realised that they could sign up, claim a bonus, then grind away on blackjack or video poker, or other low house edge games until the wagering requirements were satisfied and then withdraw whatever was left in their account. Mathematically they had en edge over the casinos which meant they made a profit in the long run.

As we all know, casinos do not like losing money to smart players. So they reacted by increasing wagering requirements, banning low house edge games from bonus play, and being ultra strict and picky when enforcing rules that can invalidate a win achieved while playing with a bonus. We are now faced with the situation where many bonus offers are traps for players: you deposit your money, claim the bonus, and are then faced with a massive wagering requirement that makes it impossible to withdraw in the short term if you have a win, and unlikely to win in the long term. Bonuses are by far the runaway number one cause of disputes between players and casinos.

Although everyone's risk tolerance and appetite for bonuses are different, you should consider the following questions before claiming a bonus:

  • Do you prefer to be able to stop playing and withdraw immediately after hitting a big win?
  • Do you want to be free to play any game of your choosing, particularly table games?
  • Do you often play with a big variance in the size of your bets in a single session?
  • Do you dislike the idea of being forced to play for longer than you want in order to withdraw?

If any of the above apply to you, then we highly recommend that you do not claim a bonus.

As far as wagering requirements are concerned, 30xB is the upper limit of what we consider to be acceptable. We factor this, amongst other things, into our algorithm that scores and ranks bonuses. There are very few bonuses available these days with a wagering requirement of 30xB or less.

No deposit bonuses

Don't feel like risking your own cash? Many casinos offer free cash to new customers, allowing you to play for free with zero risk to your own funds. These no deposit bonuses are much smaller than the sign-up bonuses in monetary terms, but they can be a good way for you to have a go at online casinos without risking any of your own money. As you well know from reading above, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch, so most free chips have high wagering requirements and their winnings are capped to a maximum monetary value. This means that somewhat perversely you probably don't want to win a huge jackpot when claiming a free chip because you will only be able to withdraw a tiny fraction of the win.

We have a ranked, sortable, list of the best no deposit bonuses available online here.

Free play bonuses

Free play bonuses are a little different to no deposit bonuses. Casinos offering free plays give you a set amount to play with (say $1000) and then you have one hour to try to win as much as you can, up to a limit (such as $1250). Once the hour is up, whatever you win above the free $1000 is yours to play with as a regular casino bonus, and can be claimed with a minimal deposit at the casino. This can be a good way to get to know the various games, and have a bit of fun without fear of losing any of your own cash. Once popular at Microgaming casinos, these bonuses are rarely seen nowadays.

Cashable bonuses vs non-cashable bonuses

If you are allowed to keep the bonus money after meeting the wagering requirements, the bonus is termed cashable or redeemable. On the other hand, non-cashable or phantom bonuses are money that the casino gives you to play with that you cannot withdraw. When you do withdraw, the bonus money is subtracted from your balance and the balance is paid out.

Sometimes these phantom bonuses are incorrectly called sticky bonuses. A sticky bonus is in fact another type of bonus that you cannot withdraw, but the bonus money "sticks" or remains in your account even after you withdraw, allowing you to play on and potentially win more. Sticky bonuses are just about extinct these days though and even when casinos claim to offer them, they are almost always offering a phantom, non-cashable, bonus instead.

Cashable bonuses are more valuable than non-cashables, but are generally of a smaller amount. Non-cashable bonuses are not without value though, depending on the playing strategy you prefer. If you are a slots player, then obviously a non-cashable bonus means more spins and more chances to hit a jackpot. For the bonus hunters, they can be used as "leverage" to increase your bet size and variance, then if you reach a certain betting target (e.g. double your deposit, or +$100), you can then decrease your wagering to reduce variance while clearing the bonus (though casinos are on to this so always read the fine print in the bonus terms before doing so). We cover non-cashable bonus clearing strategy in CL-Ed's blog article on bonus clearing strategies.