Understanding Casino Bonuses

Casino Bonuses
No Such Thing as a Free Lunch!

The adages "No such thing as a free lunch" and "If it looks to good to be true then it probably is" have never been more applicable than in the world of online casino bonuses. A tried and trusted marketing tool, every online casino offers some sort of signup incentive and invariably, the casino bonus rules the roost.

But a bonus is not free money. It invariably comes with restrictions - and hefty ones at that - and while some people always use a bonus, high bet-limit players like myself tend to avoid them. I have even written an article that highlights why I think the casino bonus may have had it's day, although there are plenty of players who disagree with me.

In this article I will explain the pros and cons but if you don't want to read the whole article, then at least go away with this: Always read the Terms & Conditions attached to a bonus before you play!

The concept of a casino bonus is different to the casino and the player. The casino has always regarded bonuses as a way for a player to try out the games. The concept to many players is that it is an extra chance to win! Consequently, you will sometimes see a casino refer to the "spirit of a bonus", normally when they are explaining why you have been bonus-banned!

I have little sympathy with a casino who uses the bonus as a marketing tool and doesn't fully explain - and make obvious- the restrictions. They should always be clearly laid out in the T&C's. Conversely, I have little sympathy with a player that is going in to try and get some free cash on a freebie. This is why I hate casino bonuses. They are the bain of this industry.

I think that before getting into the pros and cons of a signup bonus, I should recognise that a Loyalty Bonus is a different beast to a Signup Bonus. Loyalty bonuses will usually have less retsrictions because you will be receiving those after you have been verified and ID'ed and are "known" to the casino. The loyalty bonuses are often worth having, but will be much better for those players who have demonstrated that they are legitimate, fair and trustworthy. This article deals primarily with signup bonuses - please bear that in mind!
 
The Cons!

Always best to start with the negatives just so you know what you are getting yourself into when you accept casino signup bonuses. The key here is Terms & Conditions. They might look long winded at times, they may be boring as Hell, but if you don't understand the T&C's attached to a bonus offer you are going to end up disappointed, disaffected and more than likely, dis-skint!

Whatever the bonus is, it will have a thing called a Wagering Requirement ("WR") attached. In the old days, these used to be quite reasonable: stake your deposit and bonus ("D&B") 10 times or similar and you could cash out. Because of fraud and the fact so many players just came in to profit and then left never to be seen again, the WR's are now huge. 20x D&B is now regarded as a good WR and typically it's more like 40x D&B. And that's just for games of chance like slots and keno!

If you are a table-games player, Roulette, Blackjack, Video Poker or whatever, then you will find the WR"s are often huge, maybe 100x D&B. In most instances, a bonus withh a term that precludes play on table games, but the few that do will have additional provisions that preclude Red/Black and Odd/Even bets and anything that is cose to 50/50. Personally, I would NEVER take a signup bonus if I wanted to play a table game or video poker. You will also often find restrictions that place a maximum on each bet you place. This is to stop a player tring to get lucky on a couple of big bets, then grinding out the WR on small bets.

With slots and keno, even 20x is hard to achieve. The problem with the Wagering Requirement is that it restricts you from cashing out ANY amount if you win before you have staked the Wagering requirement. This includes even your initial deposit. That to me is too prohibitive. In some instances, even if you make the WR, when you come to cashout there is a maximum amount allowed and sometimes the bonus initially awarded is removed from the winnings. Are you starting to get the picture? It's a minefield and the bonus is designed to try and make sure the player cannot leave with a profit. That's not to say it's impossible, just that the odds are stacked heavily against you.

If you ever come across a "no deposit" bonus, the same sort of things apply. Although it intimates that you don't need to deposit any money to get the award, and that is the case, it often doesn't make clear that if you win, you will in some instances have to make a deposit to verify your identity. In some cases, the casinos even make you play with your deposit with a 1x token WR to satisfy money laundering requirements.

One final thing to watch out for. If the bonus rstricts you to certain types of game and precludes others, and you place even one small bet on a precluded game, your winnings will be forfeited. It might sound harsh, but there is a good reason. One of the tricks players tried was to build up a bankroll on an easy game like Roulette making big bets on Red/Black. Once they had a big amount, they would go to a game included in the WR terms and grind through the required WR. Obviously this was easier because they had a much bigger bankroll, but the casinos got wise to that and invariably now, any casino bonus will have this forfeiture term.
 
The Pros!

Personally, I think there are very few pros unless you are lucky enough to find a bonus that has a low WR. If you do, then please, please read the T&C's and check you are at a safe online casino. Remember, if it looks too good to be true it probably is and some rogue casinos lie outright about bonus requirements to make them seem very attractive and to encourage you to deposit. You won't win. You can't win. But if it's a casino brand you already know and trust, then go for it - you never know.

Where I do take a casino bonus it's when I play slots and I have money to burn. I might put in 200, get 200 as a bonus, then play spins at 5 a hand, looking for a biggie. As long as the T&C's don't state a maximum bet, this can sometimes - although very rarely - pay dividends. What it does do is give me a longer session, so I go into these with the attitude that I am looking for an hour's entertainment and am prepared to lose my deposit. What some casinos refer to as a "casual gambler" as opposed to a profiteer.

NB: More recently, I even profer an opinion that the signup bonus is useless to a player in 2015. Worth a read.
 
And finally...

In online casino lists app I have included the initial bonus amounts for completion purposes. I haven't however indicated the Wagering Requirements for each safe online casino as these can change a lot so check the T&C's of any bonus you decide to take up. You will normally find them high but not unduly so at the more trustworthy casinos. Check out the other articles in the online casino 101 guide for more assistance in playing at the right places, irresepctive of whether you play with a bonus or not!