I’ve been writing a series of blog posts in a series called “what is gambling.” The goal with these posts is to consider what is essential to gambling and what is essential to various aspects of gambling.

Having just finished a post about “what is an online casino,” I realized that the concept of casino bonuses is so important to the activity that “what are online casino bonuses” needs to be my latest topic.

Some people are amazed the first time they look at an online casino, because it looks like they’re offering free money to people just for signing up. From a certain point of view, this is exactly what’s happening.

When you see a casino offer you a 100% bonus of up to $1000 on your first deposit, you really do get an extra $1000 in your account to play with.

These signup bonuses take various formats and come with various restrictions. The purpose of this post is to look at the most common types of casino bonuses, how they work, and what they’re really worth.

Here’s my detailed answer to the following question:

What are online casino bonuses?

The Basics of Online Casino Signup Bonuses

The most basic and common type of online casino bonus is the new depositor signup bonus. This is a bonus amount of chips you’re awarded just for signing up at an online casino and making your first deposit there.

This bonus is usually described as a percentage match with an upper limit.

Here are some examples of some signup bonuses offer from real casinos that I looked at today:

  • 250% bonus up to $2500 on your first deposit, and a 300% bonus up to $3000 on your 2nd deposit
  • $25 free chip no deposit required
  • 250% bonus up to $2500
  • 190% up to $1900

Those are just example, of course. The $25 free chip is a type of bonus I’ll cover in the next section.
I’m more concerned with the more common kind of casino bonus—the matching bonus.

The percentage is the multiplier used to determine the size of your bonus. You just multiply the percentage by the amount of money you deposit to calculate how much bonus money you get.

For example, with a 250% bonus of up to $2500, you would deposit $1000 and get $2500 in bonus chips. This gives you an account with $3500 in chips to play with.

In that first example, they have a 2 part bonus, which they like to advertise as their $5500 new player bonus. The 2nd deposit is a 300% bonus of up to $3000. You deposit $1000, and you get another $3000, which gives you $4000.

These kinds of offers always come with restrictions, too. To claim that 2nd deposit bonus, you must have taken advantage of and played through that first deposit.

I’ll have a lot more to say about the requirements that come with these bonuses.

What Are Wagering Requirements, and How Do They Work?

Casinos aren’t in the business of giving away money. They’re businesses. Their goal is to make a profit.
That’s why they offer these bonuses—to get you to sign up and deposit.

But if you’re allowed to just cash out that bonus money, most players wouldn’t even bother playing the games at the casino. They’d make their deposit, claim their bonus, then immediately withdraw their funds.

I don’t think anyone would expect a casino to agree to that.

At the same time, no one would think it’s reasonable for the casino to expect you to gamble until you’ve lost all your money, either.

So the casinos instituted wagering requirements. That seems fair enough, right? You can deposit money, and we’ll give you free money on top of that. You just have to gamble a certain amount before you can cash out.

Most casinos state their wagering requirements as a multiple of your deposit plus bonus that you must bet before you can cash out. 30X is a common wagering requirement in fact.

So if you deposit $1000 and get a 250% bonus of $2500, you have $3500 in your account. You’re required to place 30 X $3500 in wagers before cashing out. That’s $105,000 in wagers.

At first glance, that seems impossible, because you don’t have $105,000 to lose—you only have $3500.

But you get credit for each bet you make, even if you win. You don’t have to LOSE $105,000. You just have to place bets equal to $105,000.

This can take the form of 105 bets of $1000 each, or 1050 bets of $100 each, or 10,00 bets of $10 each, or any other combination that totals $105,000.

Most casinos have a maximum bet of $500 regardless of the game you’re playing, though, so you’re going to need to spend some time gambling before you’re able to achieve those wagering requirements.

How Long Does It Take to Gamble Enough to Meet Your Wagering Requirements?

If you could place a single bet for $105,000, could achieve your wagering requirements in an instant. Of course, you don’t have $105,000 to wager—you only have $3500.

If you could bet $3500 every time, you’d only need to place 30 bets, which wouldn’t take long at most games. Even at the slowest casino games, you could place 30 bets in less than an hour.

But most casinos have betting maximums. Let’s assume that a casino will allow you to bet $100 per spin on one of their slot machine games. That’s the fastest game in the casino. Most players can get in 600 bets per hour on a slot machine.

This means you could put $60,000 into action per hour, and you could achieve your wagering requirement in less than 2 hours.

Most players aren’t comfortable wagering that much on a single spin of the reels, though. Let’s assume you’re a more average gambler, and you’re only willing to play for $3 per spin. That’s $1800 per hour in action.

That’s close to 60 hours of play on the slot machines. Even if you treated it like a full-time job, it would take you a week and a half to achieve your wagering requirement.

How Much Money Can You Expect to Have Won or Lost After Fulfilling Your Wagering Requirements?

Casinos and gambling theorists use a concept called “the house edge” to estimate how much of each bet a gambler will lose in the long run.

This is a theoretical amount based on the math behind the probability. In the short run, you’ll almost never see results that look like the theoretical prediction.

But in the long run, you’ll almost always see the numbers look like the theoretical prediction.

The formula for predicting your loss at a casino game is simple. You just multiply the house edge by the total amount of action.

If you’ve read many of my other posts about casino games, you’re probably familiar with the concept of the house edge already.

But here’s how the online casinos use this concept to determine their wagering requirements:

They want to minimize your probability of having any money left after you finish the required wagering.

Let’s assume you’re playing roulette. At most online casinos, you can choose between American roulette, which has a house edge of 5.26%, and European roulette, which has a house edge of 2.70%.

Being a sophisticated gambler, you choose European roulette to fulfill your wagering requirements.

You start with $3500, and you make $105,000 in wagers. Your theoretically expected loss is 2.70% multiplied by $105,000, or $2835.

If you start with $3500 and lose $2835, you have $665 left.

This means that you’ve lost $335 at the casino when you’re finally able to cash out.
That’s great for the casino, but not so great for the player.

But most casinos aren’t satisfied with that much wiggle room—which is why they usually exempt wagers on games other than slot machines from qualifying for the wagering requirements.

The average slot machine on the Las Vegas Strip has a payback percentage of 92%. This means that the house edge is 8% on such a machine. (The payback percentage and the house edge always total 100% when you add them together.)

If you assume that the slot machines at this online casino are at least as good as the average slot machines on the Las Vegas Strip, you’re looking at an expected loss of $105,000 multiplied by 8%.

That’s an expected loss of $8400.

Since you started with $3500, you’re expected to lose all your money LONG before you fulfill your wagering requirements.

Some online casinos do allow wagers on games other than slot machines to count toward your wagering requirements, but they normally count those wagers at a discounted rate. Often, they only count 10% or 20% of your wagers on blackjack or craps toward your wagering requirements.

This means your expected loss on such a game is 5 to 10 times greater than it would be, because you’re having to put 5 to 10 times as much money into action.

In the roulette example I gave earlier, if the casino allows those wagers to count but only for 10%, your expected loss on that action goes up to $28,350.

You’re better off sticking with the slot machines in that case.

This is a disappointment to blackjack players everywhere, of course, because they would love to take their basic strategy and use it to only lose an expected 0.5% of their bankroll.

What about these No Deposit Required Bonuses?

You probably noticed that one of the bonus examples I gave earlier on this post was for a $25 chip with no deposit required.

How on earth does a casino make money on a deal like that?

They make money from players who decide to go ahead and make a deposit because they had so much fun gambling their $25 chip.

The same kinds of restrictions apply to no deposit bonuses that apply to the other signup bonuses I’ve discussed. If you have a $25 chip and must wager it 30X, you must place $750 in wagers before cashing out.

Your expected loss is 8% of $750, which is $60—far more than the value of that free chip.

But sometimes players get lucky on a slot machine and hit a jackpot. Let’s say you use your $25 to make $1 spins, and you hit a jackpot for $1000. You’ve made a big profit.

Not so fast, there, buddy.

The casino has an additional restriction for a no deposit bonus like this. The maximum amount you can win is usually set pretty low. It might be $50 or $100.

I don’t think there’s anything particularly unethical or wrong with such an offer, by the way. The casino is giving you a free chip to play with.

If you walk away with $50 or $100 after that, then you’ve done well. In fact, such an offer has a positive expected value, because the risk to you is $0.

You can find lots of no deposit bonuses available at casinos across the internet. You can even find websites which specialize in publishing the details of these free offers. I had a friend who used to run a site that did nothing but promote free chip offers.

Casinos don’t really enjoy catering to free chip hunters, but they don’t mind it much, either. After all, it’s just a price of doing business.

They make enough money from the players who enjoy the games enough to make deposits that they’re willing to continue making such offers. If these promotions weren’t profitable, they’d stop offering them.

What about Ongoing Promotions and Re-Deposit Bonuses

Most online casinos offer plenty of ongoing promotions and re-deposit bonuses. The amounts of these bonuses vary from month to month and from casino to casino, but you can get extra money to play with any time you make a new deposit at a casino.

In fact, even if you can’t find a current promotion that applies, contact the customer service team and let them know you want to make a deposit.

Tell them you’d prefer to make a new deposit with them, but if they can’t provide you with some kind of re-deposit bonus, you’ll try another casino which is offering a new player signup bonus. Most casinos will accommodate you.

And why wouldn’t they?

The same wagering requirements and game restrictions I discussed earlier in this post where I explained new player signup bonuses apply to these re-deposit bonuses. And as you’ve seen from the math, the casino rarely loses money on such a deal.

Would I Be Better Off Not Taking a Deposit Bonus Altogether?

I know some casino gamblers who just turn down these bonus offers. Since those bonus offers have a negative expectation almost every time, you’re better off not claiming them.

Here’s the big advantage:

Most of the time when you accept a casino deposit bonus, you must make enough wagers to be able to cash out. This includes the amount you deposited, too.

Many times—and it varies based on the casino’s policies—you can’t even cash out the money you have left from your deposit, sans the bonus, if you didn’t fulfill the wagering requirements.

A lot of my friends would prefer to be able to deposit $1000 with the understanding that they could cash out any time they want to.

Think about this scenario, too.

Suppose you deposit $1000 and opt not to take a deposit bonus. You win a $1000 jackpot after your first hour of play. You went through $300 to get to that point, but you still have $700 in profit. You can cash out immediately.

But if you claimed a bonus, you can’t cash out after just an hour’s worth of action on the slot machines. You’d have to continue to gamble. That $1000 would probably be gone along with the size of your deposit and the bonus that you’d been awarded.

I always accept casino bonuses when I sign up for a new online casino account, but that’s not necessarily what you should do. It depends on your playing styles and preferences.

What about Free Spins on a Slot Machine?

A lot of casinos now also offer a certain number of free spins on one of their slot machine games. They usually choose which game you can play, too. My guess is that the game they choose isn’t the one with the highest payback percentage, but who knows?

These kinds of bonus offers come with the same kinds of restrictions. If you get 300 spins on Frank’s Slots Extravaganza, you must make all 300 spins before cashing out. You can’t just quit once you get ahead.

Also, these kinds of offers always come with a maximum amount you can win. It might be $100, $50, or $40. You can’t cash out big money from this kind of deal even if you hit a jackpot.

Are these kinds of offers worth taking?

That’s a good question, and the answer depends on your perspective.

If you’re someone who doesn’t like slot machines, but you do like advantage play, this might be a good deal. The chances are you won’t win anything at all, but since you’re risking nothing, even a win of $10 is a positive.

Expected value is a comparison of what you’re risking versus what you stand to gain. Since you’re risking nothing with a free spins offer, the deal is clearly a positive expectation situation.

But let’s assume you’re a slots player. You understand that in the long run, you’ll lose money playing slots. That doesn’t matter, though, because you’re committed to having fun.

And part of the fun of playing slots is hitting a jackpot.

The average slot machine jackpot is 1000 coins, so if you’re playing a $1 slot with a $25 chip, you have 25 spins.

Suppose you hit that $1000 jackpot on your last spin.

You can cash out, sure, but you can only cash out that $50 that you’re limited to.

Most of the slot machine players I know would rather deposit $25 of their own money with the understanding that they’re probably going to lose all of it. They’d at least still have the possibility of winning and cashing out that $1000 jackpot.


Online casinos bonuses used to be an opportunity for clever advantage players to make money from hapless, inexperienced online casino managers. They’re not like that anymore. The casino managers figured it out.

A casino bonus is just a bonus amount of money that’s added to your account. It will allow you to play longer, but it comes with a host of restrictions. You might be okay with some of those restrictions; you might not.

It’s not a decision I can make for you, but I can say that there’s a lot of to be said for the argument that you should just skip the signup bonus altogether and take your chances with the casino.

Online casino gambling is a negative expectation gambling activity regardless of any kind of casino bonuses or promotions you take advantage of. My best advice is to only play with money you can afford to lose and keep your expectations low.

Other than that, I can just offer you my best wishes for some good luck.

Do you take advantage of casino bonuses? What kinds of results have you seen when you did?

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