Getting the Best Value Out of Bonuses

This article is a guest post from industry expert Jim Griffin.

Over the many years I’ve been involved in the gambling industry, I’ve certainly noticed that many gamblers are not even attempting to win money.  It seems for some the thrill of winning a t-shirt, redeeming points for a custom jersey, or reaching some new VIP tier to display next to their avatar is what makes gambling fun, enjoyable, or maybe is just what feeds their addiction. This article is not written for these players, but rather for those actually hoping to win, but are too caught up with the concept of how much they’re getting for free.

You see in online gambling, human nature has long led to players to be more interested in what they’re getting for free than in finding the best value. Allow me to use poker as the first example. I recall years ago, before UIGEA, one of the best bonus offers in online poker was a 20% up to $100 bonus offered by All you had to do to clear each dollar was be dealt cards in five hands that were raked. After 500 raked hands the $100 was yours to keep. Each time this bonus was offered I’d clear it in less than 2 hours by eight tabling $0.25/$0.50 fixed limit hold’em full ring. Not all pots were raked at this stake, but still I was averaging about $40.00 per hour (winnings + cleared bonus) without the slightest chance I wouldn’t come out ahead.

In time marketing took over. This started with Full Tilt Poker advertising a 100% up to $600.00 bonus. However, when playing the 8-tables of $0.25/$0.50 limit hold’em strategy here, it didn’t work out well at all. This is because at $0.25 in rake, the Full Tilt Poker bonus would clear at 1.5 cents per raked pot, where the PartyPoker bonus cleared 13.3 times faster at 20 cents per hand. Of course, the Full Tilt Poker website didn’t spell this out. In fact they just put get $600 free ads all over the web, and trying to read through the terms would make anyone’s heads spin. First you had pending bonus cash, then had to earn 333.33 FTP to clear each twenty dollars of bonus, and had to figure out how these FTP were even earned. And this is what the industry evolved to.

Starting with Noble Poker, then Titan Poker, Absolute Poker, Ultimate Bet etc. all the online poker sites began offering massive 100% up to $500+ bonuses in order to compete. Quite a few of these bonuses were just an 8%-15% return on rake which was far less than you could have gotten signing up with a rakeback provider for these same sites. It also took a ton of research just to figure out how the bonus cleared as poker sites began making their bonus programs more and more confusing.

However many players actually said things like, why are you joining PokerStars? Their bonus sucks; Full Tilt Poker offers $600.00 free. (Of course, the free was far from free). In time even sites that had great bonuses (example Bodog had an instant cash bonus, as did 888) all in order to compete needed to reduce the value of their offers, and change to a large, not so free $500+ bonus.

My advice to online gamblers playing poker is even though it is tedious to do, always read the bonus rules to see what it is you’re actually getting. It is quite possible that a transfer $50 in chips to the poker room and get $50 free offer is far better than some whopping 100% up to $1,000 bonus in terms of the value.

Sports Betting Bonuses

In the UK, most the popular football betting sites give risk free bets. While Betfred offers a £50 free bet and Coral a £30 free bet, most of the offers are £10 or sometimes £25 free bets. How this works is if your first bet is a loser they refund the stake. For the sake of keeping it simple even at the £50 free bet offer of Betfred, this bonus has just a £25.00 value if you’re betting odds 2.00. This is because on average half time you’ll win the bet (getting £0.00 in bonus) and half the time you’ll lose the bet getting £50, on average you’re getting a £25.00 bonus.

A smart gambler would merely take all these sites up on their bonus offer, then say wham bam thank you ma’am, and be gone. This is because it is well known UK bookies offer by far the worse betting odds in the industry and these sites are offering you risk free bets in hopes you’ll get used to using their site and wager with their poor odds long term. A smart bettor would easily be able to recognize Asian bookies such as SBOBet, and discount bookies like Pinnacle Sports, and betting exchanges like Betfair all offer far better odds. However nothing much lost here, US players have it far worse.

In the US, many bettors use the site for the reason they offer a 25% free play bonus on every deposit. However in exchange for this free cash the player needs to agree to roll their deposit plus bonus over 6-times prior to cashing out. So if you deposit $1,000 you get a $250 free play and have $7,500 in rollover. If you’re a 53% winner on -110 point spreads and use your $250 to make 10 bets of $25.00 to win $22.72. 5.3 times you win $22.72 for $120.42 profit, while the other times you lose your free play. You balance is now $1,120.42 and you have $7,500 in rollover to meet. To meet this you make 100 wagers of $82.50 to win $75.00. As a 53% winner 53 times you win $75 and 47 times lose $82.50 which nets you $97.50 in winnings. You balance is now $1120.42+$97.50=$1217.92. You started with $1,000 so you’ve made $217.92 at BetOnline.

If you had instead used, a betting site that offers -105 instead of -110, and made the same ten bets of risk $25.00 @ -105, and risk $87.50 @ -105, and kept the same 53% win rate, your profit would come out to $324.58. That means making the exact same bets at BetOnline and 5Dimes, despite having no bonus you made $106.66 more at 5dimes. You see getting the best odds is far more important than a bonus offer. Also with no bonus offer you’re free to come and go as you please not having rollover that stops you from cashing out. While everyone likes to get something for free, in sports it’s true the sites offering the largest bonuses most often offer the poorest value. Many sites such as 5Dimes and Pinnacle offer better value with no bonus than the largest bonuses on the net provide.

Casino Bonuses

The final group to mention is casino players. Now unless you’re getting a true no deposit casino bonus, or are picking off software errors, payout mistakes, or rare +EV bonuses this is a form of gambling, that unlike poker and sports betting, can’t be beaten long term. As a result many casinos use a lot of deception in their bonus offers knowing the typical casino gambler deposits, plays and keeps playing until they have nothing left. So here the casino group gets creative.

An example of a deceptive bonus comes from Golden Cherry, who uses Rival software. Their website has a massive 300% up to $3,000 bonus offer flashing on it. However research it and you’ll find this bonus is loaded with terms and impossible to beat. You have to make so many bets you’ll near certainly go bust before making them in order to cash out, and if you meet all this – the bonus is not yours! You can only wager the bonus after losing your real money, and when cashing out that bonus is deducted. You agree to a massive near impossible to meet rollover that prevents you from cashing out, for the privilege of this sticky bonus.

I would sincerely need to write a book to show how poor the typical casino bonus is, and how bonuses are the leading reason online casino gamblers rarely get lucky and book a win. For example you start playing a $500 deposit, run well and are up $300, what good is it when you have $24,000 more in rollover to meet? Let me just say scouting you can find some decent bonuses. For example at Bet365 their bonus is a cash bonus, and when used at Caribbean Stud Poker, if you play optimal strategy, don’t play the progressive, your effective odds (due to having the bonus) result in just a 0.06% house advantage. On average you’ll get away with losing only your bonus, and a few dollars of your own money. This is a bonus you MIGHT! Be able to beat with some luck.

For everyone else you’re better off playing low house edge games such as online baccarat. Or, you could scout online casinos looking for the lowest house advantage game. Or for those outside the US consider playing at the casino of where you get 0.3% rebate on all bets made win or lose, and they also have favorable player rules at many games. Here you have a far better chance of getting lucky and walking with cash. The reason you can walk is because you have no rollover to meet.

In closing my advice to gamblers looking to win, is to never window shop bonuses. To get the best value the xxx% to $xxx means little and shouldn’t ever get you excited. Spending some time scouting the fine print and visiting sites like for advice, will greatly increase your chances of winning.


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