***Updated: November 3, 2018***
Everyone likes to be warmly welcomed when they arrive somewhere new. A friendly smile, open arms, or the offer of a cold drink on a hot day can set the tone for the rest of that relationship. In this era, businesses know better than anyone how important first impressions are so all of the major service-based companies usually offer some type of reward for choosing them.
It’s not surprising then that online casinos are no different and all of them have some type of welcome package that’s extended to new customers. Of course Welcome Bonuses are one of the primary factors that most players consider before signing up for a new account, but let’s not get hung up on that for the moment.
The vast majority of welcome offers involve the operator giving you a percentage match on your first deposit up to a specified amount, usually a couple of hundred dollars, or sometimes in the thousands. Players can therefore gamble with a lot more money than what they walked in the door with since their bankrolls are instantly boosted.
These freebies are always subject to terms and conditions that many players don’t know about at the time they make their first deposit. This is why we have compiled everything you will need to know about the “fine print” of welcome packages so you’re not surprised once you’ve registered.
What is a Welcome Bonus?
A Welcome Bonus is simply the term given to the free money that an online casino gives you for signing up a new account and making your first real money deposit. There are many different kinds of welcome packages and the terms and conditions will change from place to place.
The two most important factors to look at when selecting a signup bonus are 1) the percentage that the casino is giving you and 2) the rollover requirements that you have to meet before you can withdraw your winnings. Also, you should make sure to note whether they are giving you a bonus on your first deposit only, or if it’s actually spread out over multiple deposits. It’s becoming much more common these days for online casinos in the United States to have welcome packages that are released in stages over multiple transactions because they encourage the players to be loyal.
For example, a bonus of “1,000% up to $2,000” is sometimes issued as 10 individual bonuses of 100% up to $200, on your first 10 real money deposits. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you’ll always want to know exactly what you’re getting into before signing up an account.
In addition, every casino has different rules regarding where the free bonus money can be used. Some allow you to gamble in every area of their casino such as the sportsbook, racebook, poker room, or bingo parlor, while others only allow you to use it on certain games.
Lastly, some operators in the U.S. offer “non-cashable” welcome bonuses which allow new players to gamble with free money, but if they win they’re not allowed to withdraw the bonus amount, only the winnings. In addition, players will have to meet strict wagering requirements before they can make a withdrawal of any kind. This is referred to in the terms and conditions as “rollover”, and we explain this term in the section below.
There usually isn’t a requirement to deposit the maximum amount that a Welcome Bonus will match in order to receive it, however, the minimum amounts are anywhere between $20 and $50 depending on where you go. If you choose to only transfer a small amount at first you will obviously be able to clear the wagering requirements quickly and cash out your winnings. However, the downside to this is that you won’t have received as large of a welcome bonus for signing up and depositing. There’s a lot to consider here and everyone needs to decide for themselves what’s best.
In addition to the actual amounts, some places may reward you based on the casino deposit method you use to transfer funds to them. For example, it’s now easy to find operators that will give you extra money for depositing with Bitcoin because it’s untraceable and easy to use. Alternatively, some websites will remove a bonus if you use certain methods that they don’t like, with eWallets being a prime example.
Bonus multipliers as high as 50x on an initial deposit are sometimes offered, so the small deposit strategy can really pay off in these situations. Some casinos also apply the multiplier to a total of the deposit plus the bonus, making the wagering amount necessary to clear all of the requirements twice as much.
Don’t worry – all of this information can always be found in a casino’s terms and conditions. Most industry veterans live by the general rule of, “the higher the bonus multiplier, the more games you are forced to play”…and that’s never a bad thing when trying out a new casino. As long as you aren’t in a hurry to withdraw your winnings, this strategy will work for you too.
Experienced players know that certain casino games will yield significantly lower losses on average than others, with the most popular ones being video poker, blackjack, and baccarat. These games can be played up to the rollover limit with minimal damage to a bankroll and when the free money is added, a profit has usually been made. Conceivably, the player could then withdraw their funds and simply move on to the next stop.
However, operators today aren’t stupid and therefore only allow a small fraction of bonus play on these specific games, with usually just 5% or 10% of the amount you’ve wagered counting towards the clearing of the bonus. This tends to steer players to high volatility games such as slots, keno, and scratch cards, where they will have 100% of their wagers count towards the rollover.
There will always be a list of restricted games that do not contribute to the clearing of a bonus, with roulette being the most obvious example. This is because players could technically bet both red and black every spin and break even while still clearing the rollover.
Internet gambling websites do not want “Bonus Hunters” to simply wager low amounts on games and play it safe until the bonus money is released into their accounts. So to prevent players from grinding out at near-even odds games, a time limit can be given to clear a bonus.
The average expiration date on a sign up bonus is anywhere from 48 hours to 90 days. As always, this information will be clearly stated in the Terms and Conditions so make sure to read them beforehand so you don’t get a nasty surprise when you log into your account expecting to see a bloated balance.
As stated above, online casinos will always require that players wager a certain amount of real money before any bonuses can be withdrawn. To be clear, that is money wagered, not won. For example, if a player deposits $100, the average place may require a 20x rollover on the deposit. In this case the player would need to wager a total of $2,000 before the bonus is cleared and the free $100 is added to their account, with the math being $100 x 20 = $2,000.
Rollover requirements look scary on paper but they are actually quite easy to clear in practice. This is because most games give players back a decent chunk of their original wagers each time a hand is played. For instance, a popular game like Let it Ride only has a house edge of 3.51%, so on average, the vast majority of the money that a player wagers is returned to them throughout the game. Thinking about betting in these terms can be hard to wrap your head around at first, so feel free to read this section numerous times until you fully understand how it works.
No Deposit Bonuses
A version of the Welcome Bonus is the “No Deposit Bonus”, which can be found at various operators throughout the world but are getting harder to find in the U.S. these days. This offer gives players free spins on slot machines, or free chips to play table games for a set time limit, (one hour is the industry standard), without the player having to deposit any money first. Players are basically issued a free bankroll, ($1,000 is normal), and the winnings are usually capped at a few hundred dollars.
All of the winnings are subject to the usual terms and conditions so any amount won over the initial balance will be held by the House until the rollover is met. Even though it takes time to clear the winnings, it’s a great way for new players to try both games and operators that they might not have otherwise checked out.
Make sure to carefully read the Bonus Sections in each of our online casino reviews, as we will always highlight the most important parts of their promotions and tell you how to make the most of their offers that are extended to new players.