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Online casino bonuses

• What are bonuses?
• Types of bonuses
• Rules, terms and conditions
    • Wagering requirements
    • Excluded games
    • Non-counting games
    • Prohibited games
    • Game weightings
    • Bet size restrictions
• Post-wager bonuses
• Bonus "abuse" and "the spirit of the bonus"
• The elephant in the room

Online casino bonuses and their inherent complexities are a perennial problem for inexperienced gamblers. This page is an extract taken from a much larger article I had intended for publishing elsewhere but which I've decided to publish in part here for the time being. My current small list of recommended casinos do not have bonuses of excessive complexity, but you still need to be careful, read the rules and know exactly what your getting yourself into.

Of course, if you prefer to not be bothered with bonuses, simply don't take them - you might end up saving yourself a headache.

What are bonuses?

Bonuses are probably the single most highly-rated marketing tool in the online gambling industry's arsenal of weapons in its aggressive drive to acquire players. As a means of encouraging you to make a deposit, casinos will offer a sum of free money, ranging between anything from fifty percent up to five hundred percent or more of your initial deposit amount, posted into your account at some point during the cycle of depositing and cashing out. The word "free" is something of a red herring, since the conversion of your bonus cash into withdrawable funds usually entails complying with so many rules, terms and conditions as to make you wonder why you bothered in the first place.

Types of bonuses

Bonuses come in various guises: cashable, non-cashable, pre-wager, post-wager and various combinations of the above. I'll try to list all possible combinations here, with a detailed description.

Cashable: the bonus cash in your account is your money to keep as soon as you've fulfilled all the rules and regulations regarding what you have to do to earn it; the casino will pay you exactly the amount you have in your account when you press the "withdrawal" button. So, assuming you deposit £100 and receive a £100 bonus for a total starting balance of £200, if when you come to cash out you've lost £60 for a new total balance of £140, the £100 bonus would offset your £60 loss and give you a £40 profit. Without the bonus, you would be £60 in the red.

This kind of bonus can be either of the pre-wager or post-wager type, as defined below.

Non-cashable: here, the bonus amount cannot be converted into cash. When you request a withdrawal, and again assuming that all the myriad of rules have been adhered to, the casino will first deduct the bonus amount, then pay you the remainder. For example: you received a £50 bonus for your £50 deposit, giving a starting total of £100. By the time you've put in all the necessary play, you've won £20, giving a total of £120 in your account. When you cash out, the casino takes your balance of £120, removes the £50 non-cashable bonus, and pays you the remaining £70. You won £20 over the course of your play, and this, plus your original deposit, is the amount you receive.

Pre-wager: the bonus is posted to your account before you start playing, and is part of the funds, along with your deposit, that you can use for your wagering.

Post-wager: the bonus is put in your account after you complete the amount of play required. For this kind of a bonus, you would always be able to withdraw it, and any of your deposit and / or winnings, at this point.

Cash back: this amounts to a refund of losses, and can obviously only be credited to your account after you finish playing (post-wager) and you've lost a certain amount. It will be advertised as a percentage of your losses. For example, based on a twenty percent refund offer, if you deposit £200 and lose the whole amount, you'd be credited with a £40 losses refund. Although these are refunds of losses, cashback bonuses almost always come with wagering requirements before the rebate can be withdrawn.

Rules, terms and conditions

In order that you can't simply withdraw the bonus without playing at all, as I mentioned in the introductory remarks above all bonuses are governed by rules to which you must adhere in order to make a withdrawal. There are also other rules covering aspects of your account, but here I want to cover only the matters relating to your actual game play.

These rules are: wagering requirements, excluded games, non-counting games, game weightings and bet size restrictions.

  • Wagering requirements

To ensure that you don't simply withdraw the bonus without playing at all, the most important rules governing bonuses are the wagering requirements, or how much you need to wager, and on what games, in order to withdraw your money.

Wagering requirements are typically expressed as either a multiple of your deposit amount, or the deposit amount plus the bonus. So, for example: deposit £100, receive a £100 bonus, and wager your deposit plus the bonus twenty times in order to qualify for a withdrawal. This would work out at (100 + 100) × 20 = 4000, so for this particular bonus offer you'd need to wager a total of £4000 to make a withdrawal.

  • Excluded games

When a bonus is in the mix not all games qualify for play. Casinos' reasoning regarding which games to exclude is sometimes quite rational and sometimes completely illogical and ill-informed. To give a couple of examples: very often, roulette and baccarat are excluded on the basis that it's possible to make two "opposing" bets, such as player and banker, red and black, high and low and, so on, where the two outcomes represent more or less the sum total of all possible outcomes and as such, the player is seen as playing "without risk". This is usually illogical and counter-productive on the part of the casino. Another example is the exclusion of blackjack. This is invariably a sensible move, as blackjack has one of the lowest house edges and players tend to end up holding on to more of the bonus money when they play blackjack.

However, be they sensible or illogical the reasons for the games' exclusions, you must abide by them, as to not do so would constitute an infringement of the rules and give the casino a reason to not pay.

  • Non-counting games

Does "non-counting" mean "excluded"? Properly speaking, it does not; a non-counting game is simply a game which does not count towards the wagering requirement. If blackjack is deemed to be "non-counting", then however much of that particular game you play, not a penny will count towards your wagered total.

Unfortunately, casinos usually interpret "non-counting" as "excluded"; in other words, if you play such a game you run a high risk of jeopardising any eventual withdrawal, on the basis that this game was actually excluded.

To avoid such problems, by far the safest thing to do is to regard a game listed as "non-counting" as actually being excluded from play.

  • Prohibited games

Don't play these games with an active bonus. If you do, you're unlikely to see a penny of any winnings you accrue.

  • Game weightings

Games have differing house edges. Blackjack has typically one of the lowest, at around 0.5%. Baccarat is around 1%. Roulette ranges between around 1.5% and 5%. Slots can range anywhere between 2% and 10%. Since play on the games with lower house edges results in less average profit for the casino and more of the bonus held by the player, in order to balance the books games are often "weighted" on a sliding scale, with the lower house edge games counting for less of the overall wagering than the games with the higher house edges.

Here's an example of a weightings table:

Slots, keno100%
Video poker20%

Wagering on slots and keno counts 100%, which means that £1000 wagered on these games will count as £1000 of the wagering requirement. As such, on a total £3000 bonus wagering requirement, your £1000 wagering on slots and keno counts for £1000 of the total wagering, and you have £2000 left to wager. If you wager £1000 on roulette, because only 50% of this game counts, your £1000 wagering is counted as £500 of the total wagering for this bonus. As blackjack only counts as 10%, £1000 wagering on this game would count as £100 for this bonus's wagering.

(It should be noted in this example that baccarat and craps count as 0%, and consequently are non-counting. As per my advice in the previous paragraph, you are best advised to not play such a game, as the casino may regard it as "excluded" and consider this reason to withhold any payments as a rule violation.)

  • Bet size restrictions

This is an interesting subject related to the value of the bonus which I'll touch briefly on below after describing the mechanics. Here are some examples of how a bet size restriction is expressed on casino websites:

Other examples of irregular game play include placing single bets equal to or in excess of
30% or more of the value of the bonus credited to your account until such time as the wagering
requirements for that bonus have been met.

In the interests of fair gaming, there is a limit on the maximum bet size you can place during the
play through of the no-deposit bonus. This limit is £10.

In the first example, you cannot bet more than 30% of the amount of the bonus; in the second, you're limited to bets no greater than £10.

Why would a casino worry about the size of your bets? In the early years of the industry they did not - you could wager as much as you wanted. However, they came to realise that the size of a player's bets was directly related to how much of the bonus the player retained: on average, bigger bets equated to bigger winnings. To combat this, bet size restrictions gradually started to appear in amongst the myriad of rules and regulations.

Post-wager bonuses

Post-wager bonuses are very straightforward, as the fact of their placement after wagering has taken place means they have none of the shifting shades of value, and therefore complexity, of their pre-wager counterparts. Here is a typical example:

Make a deposit of £5 or more and we will match your first deposit with a 100% bonus.

You must play through 25 times your first deposit amount to earn your casino welcome

Earn your bonus by playing through your first deposit, additional deposits and/or
winnings on the permitted casino games.

Bonus "abuse" and "the spirit of the bonus"

These two bizarre-looking terms bear defining, as they are dearly loved by the online gambling industry and frequently invoked. Casinos may claim a bonus to have been "abused" when a player has strictly adhered to the rules and played absolutely no more than the required amount before cashing out. While it's rather odd to consider a circumstance where no rules of any kind have been broken as "abusive", it also isn't hard to understand where the casino is coming from when it uses the expression. As I said in the opening paragraph, bonuses are a marketing tool designed to entice players to deposit and lose. They are not intended as charitable gestures. As such, when players demonstrate just such a regard for them, the casino is understandably aggrieved. Of course, it's perfectly possible to design "unbeatable" (and therefore "unabusable") bonuses, and if casinos cannot write adequate terms, terms that protect them from the kind of play they consider undesirable, then the contract is king and the player must be paid. But that said, I understand where they're coming from.

I have less sympathy for the second line of casino-speak above, the "spirit of the bonus", which is pure nonsense. This is not a reference to a dearly-departed bonus, lost to the casino forever at the hands of an evil player, although it's an irresistible idea. The "spirit" in question is the casino's apparent generosity in awarding the bonus in the first place, which the player is expected to return in kind with his lost deposit. While the purpose of the bonus as a marketing tool is clear, there is absolutely no question here of generosity of spirit or any other such consideration of casino largesse. The bonus is offered as a means to lever open your wallet and acquire your money, and there is no generosity, charity or any other such ennobling sentiment at work. It is a business tactic. It does casinos no credit when they attempt to paint themselves in such absurdly august colours.

The elephant in the room

There's a very large red elephant in the room above - the potential profit-value of bonuses. I have deliberately not touched on this as it's a minefield in today's online casino climate of bonus rules that often seem to need a lawyer to get you through them, along with the requirement of a very large bankroll and a lot of skill. If you want a relatively stress-free bonus experience, take bonuses as a means of prolonging your playing time - this is the exchange the gambling industry envisiged when they came up with the idea in the first place: they get a shot at your deposit in exchange for a longer time at the tables or machines on the part of the customer.

Stick to my recommended casinos and drop me an email if you have any questions.

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