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? Sometimes it is. Read on and find out.
Sign-up or 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. Casinos generally specify the wagering requirement on a bonus in one of two ways: as a multiple of the bonus amount, or a multiple of the sum of the deposit and bonus. The latter is used to make the wagering requirement appear lower than it really is. At Casino Listings we always list the wagering requirements as a multiple of the bonus amount to make the various offers easily comparable. For example 20xB means you must wager 20 times the bonus amount before you are allowed to cash out. So in our $100 example, a 20xB requirement means you have to wager $2000 before you are allowed to withdraw your money. Remember wagers are cumulative - you don't have to bet $2000 in one go. So each time you make a 50c spin, or a $1 blackjack bet, it adds up and contributes to the wagering requirements.
We have a ranked list of the best casino sign-up bonuses available here.
It's a Trap?
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. Players realised that they could sign up, claim a bonus, then grind away on blackjack, 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.
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. Although everyone's risk tolerance and appetite for bonuses are different, we have the following advice: if you are uncomfortable with not being able to withdraw immediately after winning, or want to be free to play any game of your choosing, or don't like the idea of being forced into playing longer than you want to in order to withdraw, then don't claim a bonus. As far as wagering requirements are concerned, 30xB is the upper limit of what we consider to be acceptable, and we factor this (amongst other things) into our bonus ranking algorithm.
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. 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 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.
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 removed from your account and your balance is zeroed. 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. We cover non-cashable bonus clearing strategy in CL-Ed's blog article on bonus clearing strategies.
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