The Unfortunate Demise of the Casino Signup Bonus

Once upon a time, the casino signup bonus was a lifeline to a new player but not any more. In fact, it has been diseased and dying for quite some time...

THE EULOGY

When I first launched the A-Z of Online Casinos back around 2010, I wrote a long article on the pros and cons of a signup bonus. Even back then, the concept of a signup bonus had changed a lot since I first played online back in 2004 but the points in that article are still largely relevant here in mid-2015.

Back then, it was quite simple. I started life playing at BetVictor Casino and I put in a whopping 20 and received 20 "free money" with a 4x wagering requirement (4x WR), meaning I only had to turn over the deposit and bonus 4 times before I could cash out. Around the same time, I played at LeoVegas Casino who had a signup bonus that wasn't even credited until you had wagered 10x the initial deposit amount and when that moment finally arrived, you could use it unrestricted.

For what it's worth, I didn't make the wagering at Ladbrokes, even on the paltry 4x WR! But that was mostly my fault and partly down to a slot machine called Thunderstruck, which still repeatedly reminds me of that fact 11 years later!

Ah those were the days. I didn't even give it a second thought to be honest: it was pain and fun rolled into one!

THE LAST RITES

As time has gone on and I have got a bit more savvy, it started to dawn on me that things were changing. You could even quite legitimately debate the term "no such thing as a free lunch" when it came to a casino bonus back then. It wasn't too far off to be honest, as long as you knew what you were doing. Not any more.

And here's the crux of the problem. When you dish up "something for nothing", or more accurately in this instance you create the perception that you are dishing up something for nothing, you are going find yourself with lots of friends. Very quickly. Superficial friends obviously: they really just want what you've got. And of course the more people that want what you've got, the faster you're not going to have it. But everyone needs friends, right? Or customers. Or better still, friendly customers! So you still intimate that you can give them "something for nothing", only now they have to work for it.

And they do. So, you make them work a bit harder. And they do, because it's "free money" baby! No surprise then that his cycle will repeat itself until the point at which either a) you have nothing left or b) what you have isn't worth having. Ah...Bingo! Now we're getting warm.

This is where we are currently at with the casino signup bonus, in my opinion. In fact, we crossed that line sometime around 2013 but, because the casinos lack an alternative, you will still see the bonus offered by virtually every online casino you come across! Only it's not really a "bonus" at all anymore. Quite the opposite in fact. I prefer the term, "bonus trap" in fact.

We are now used to the 40x wagering, the ever-growing "excluded games" list, the low max bet restrictions, the free spin offers that are simply mutton dressed as lamb, the "spirit of the bonus" excuse for not paying out bonus winnings and the latest one, recently implemented by a large number of Microgaming download casinos, a low maximum cashout of 6x the deposit used to claim the bonus. This is ON TOP OF the 40x +/- wagering requirement prior to a cashout request.

WE COME TOGETHER

Not to celebrate the bonus, nor to grieve, but to dwell on our reasons for being here. The first reason is probably quite obvious: when you purport to offer something for nothing and everyone comes to get it, it becomes unsustainable. Secondly, the "something for nothing" philosphy is designed to prey on the human trait of "greed" so is it not rather obvious also that exactly the type of person that will get attracted by "free money" is - *shock horror* - someone who wants something for nothing! What do you expect?

So with this self-perpetuating act of naivity/ostrich behaviour, it is inevitable that bonus terms will continue to get worse until the point at which they no longer attract the player who wants "something for nothing". At which point, well, it's pointless even offering it! And in my opinion, this is where we stand right now.

But still, the casinos (and many affiliates too) continue to advertise the signup bonus as a good thing. Some might even still believe it is!

THE AFTERLIFE

So it seems that the casinos don't seem to want to drop the idea of a signup bonus just yet, even though savvy players know it is more often than not a disadvantage to take one. This is probably because the casinos don't have an alternative and most are scared that the competition will have an edge. Which actually, is getting less likely by the day as the signup bonus terms get worse and worse.

It is also probably because - for the casinos at least - it still works as an acquistion tool. I mean, how many new players read the terms, know what they are getting into and get lulled into a false sense of security? Quite a few inexperienced players I suspect. And they probably most likely always will - the first time.

What we need is either a) someone to innovate, take a risk, try something different or b) start to attract customers by offering good service and by focusing on gaining and rewarding loyalty! They all think they do but they don't. Trust me. It is seriously amazing how many casinos sacrifice service for savings... but that story is for another day.

For players, the solution is simple: don't take a signup bonus. Play with your own money and you are free to cash out when you win instead of being tied into days of wagering with a 95%+ chance you will lose the lot in the process. Including your deposit. Any site that tells you otherwise is not telling it to you straight!

So I put it to you that the bonus is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet it's maker! It's a stiff! Bereft of life, It rests in peace!

And Amen to that.

FOOTNOTE: THE BLAME GAME

We shouldn't just blame the casinos and affiliates for this situation. Player fraud has played a very large role in getting us to this point and the restrictions are largely designed to combat and protect against fraud.

However, as I stated earlier, if you offer something for free then you will get people trying to take advantage. This is a shared responsibility but it's down to the casinos to find a suitable replacement, if indeed they feel it is necessary. They can certainly hardly blame anyone but themselves for bonus issues arising from such blatantly materialistic offers.

I'd argue we are nearing a point where it could actually be deemed deceptive to offer a "bonus" but I doubt anyone will care or do anything about it. Even the regulatory bodies are largely disinterested in things like that.