The Welcome Bonus in Gambling: How It Works and How to Unlock It

Welcome Bonus

Even just reading about some of the fantastic Welcome Bonuses online casinos are offering today can get the gambler in you excited. Are these "freebies" really as great as they sound, and what is the catch? This article will tell you.

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What Is the Welcome Bonus?

Welcome Bonus

The term Welcome Bonus is exclusive to online casinos. Brick and mortar casinos don't offer anything like it. A new player walking into a land-based casino for the first time may or may not be giving the casino any significant level of action. The casino usually doesn't know in advance and therefore gives the player nothing in advance. Those who sign up for a player's card may be offered a token gift like a key chain or $5 off at the buffet and possibly, later in the day, after a certain amount of slot play, earn a free buffet, but that is it. Only after a player has given the casino what it considers sufficient qualifying action, are comp points awarded.

As a player's points accumulate, they can be used towards meals, rooms, shows, and other purchases on the property. The player may also receive additional offers by mail or email. Higher level players receive higher level comps, including discounted or free rooms and possibly also qualify for a personal host, gourmet meals, and invitation only drawing entries and special events. Some high end players receive free limo serve and even have their airfare picked up.

When playing at online casinos, most of these perks don't apply since there is no traveling to get to the casino and there are no on site hotel and meal costs. High end players do receive special gifts and even free trips, but the casino has to come up with something additional to get all levels of players in the door. The Welcome Bonus is that something and virtually every legitimate online casino offers one.

The Welcome Bonus comes in the form of a match to the player's opening deposit, the amount and terms of which can vary considerably. For example, the bonus might be a 100% match of the player's own deposited funds up to a certain specified maximum, or it might be more, like 150% or 200%. Sometimes the bonus is doled out piecemeal, with part being offered at the time of the first deposit, part be given with the second deposit, and so on, in which case the match percentage of the deposit might vary and be less than 100%. Usually, there are strict time limits on accessing the multiple parts of a bonus. Often, two, three, or four deposits must all be made within the first week of play. Some Welcome Bonuses are very simple-i.e., a 100% match of your first deposit up to $200, while others are extremely complicated.

How Casinos Can Afford to Give a Welcome Bonus

Welcome Bonus

The Welcome Bonus is designed to benefit the casino, not the player. Online casinos use it to draw in new business, but no casino just gives the money away, no strings attached. For starters, you have to set up a real money account and make a minimum deposit showing your intent to play. Then the bonus money you are entitled to, based on the amount of your deposit, is placed in your account, but frozen, along with your own money and any associated winnings, until you meet the designated "playthrough" requirements for withdrawal.

These requirements are substantial, so you will have to show some significant activity in the casino before you can derive any tangible benefit (i.e., withdraw your winnings). More often than not, in order to meet the hefty wagering requirements, you will find yourself playing for longer periods of time and for higher stakes than you are accustomed to playing ordinarily without a bonus hanging over your head.

In addition, don't expect to be able to play any game you wish to satisfy the playthrough requirements for withdrawal. For example, if your favorite game is one with a very low house edge like video poker or blackjack, forget about playing it, while trying to qualify for the bonus. Usually, only slots, Keno, parlor games, and scratch cards count 100% toward meeting the wagering requirements, for the obvious reason that these are the games with the biggest house edge.

The casinos know that the longer you play these games and the more units you wager, the greater the probability that you will lose and the casino will win. So by limiting the heavy play you will have to show to qualify for the bonus to games where the house edge is highest, the casino is minimizing its risk.

Conversely, video poker and most table games either don't count at all or they don't count anywhere near 100%, typically 25% or even less. You might not even know this without carefully reading all of the fine print in the Terms and Conditions section of the website.

If you choose to play a game that only counts 25% instead of having, say, a stated 30x playthrough requirement for withdrawal, you will be faced with a virtually impossible to meet 120x playthrough requirement. In other words, practically speaking, regardless of whether you ordinarily play slots or not, if you realistically hope to satisfy the bonus associated wagering requirements you probably have to play the slots.

Casinos can afford the Welcome Bonus for a combination of reasons. First, as stated, they effectively restrict your play to the games which are least advantageous to the player. While you can certainly get lucky and win large amount of money playing slots, most players will lose. In addition, many players don't understand the terms and conditions of the bonus so they wind up not qualifying. Others go broke trying. Players may be required to play through their own deposited funds before using the bonus, which also benefits the casino.

On the other hand, limiting the match bonus maximum prevents a person who is extremely wealthy and can afford to deposit virtually any amount of money from receiving a bonus of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thus, you, the player, can potentially lose whatever amount of money you are able and willing to deposit, while the casino is taking every precaution to limit possible losses on their part.

“You can certainly get lucky and win large amounts of money playing slots.”

Types of Bonuses

Welcome Bonuses differ from casino to casino not only in the amount and structure, but also in the terms and conditions for withdrawing your winnings. Basically, there are three different types of bonuses. They are described below, starting with the best and ending with the worst.

  1. Only the bonus, not your own deposited money, is counted in figuring the playthrough requirements for withdrawal. This type of Welcome Bonus, which you will find in all of the Microgaming casinos, is best because it has the least amount of risk for the player.

    Unfortunately, some Microgaming casinos have raised the playthrough requirements to 50x the bonus, which is high. Once you have satisfied the requirement, whatever is left of both your deposit and the bonus and any winnings are all yours to keep.

  2. Both the bonus and your associated deposit are counted in determining the playthrough requirements for withdrawal. Then, once you have satisfied the requirement, whatever is left of both your deposit and the bonus and any winnings are all yours to keep.

    In this scenario, the number of times specified for the playthrough may be lower (i.e., 20 or 25x instead of 30-50x), but because it applies to both the bonus and your deposit, the total amount of wagering required could be higher. Also, the casino will ask you to use your own deposited money first before accessing the bonus to play.

  3. In addition to requiring you to play through both the bonus and your associated deposit, even after satisfying all of the wagering requirements, the bonus itself is not withdrawable. After all that heavy play, just to have access to your winnings, once the casino takes back the bonus, your account balance will go way down. So unless you have hit some huge jackpot or are otherwise sitting on a mountain of money, you will be unable to keep up the same level of play indefinitely. Once a player experiences a taste of high stakes gambling, it may be difficult scaling back down. This type of Welcome Bonus is very risky to your bankroll and is best avoided.

No Deposit Bonus

Welcome Bonus

Some casinos offer new players what they call a No Deposit Bonus. They advertise that just for signing up, you can get this money absolutely free, no deposit required. The "No Deposit" bonus is much smaller than the regular Welcome Bonus. It might be only $20, for example. But in order to be able to withdraw any winnings, there is a 30-50x playthrough requirement. Obviously, the bonus isn't large enough to support that level of play, so if you are hoping to win anything with it, a deposit is in fact necessary.

Summary and Conclusion

In summary, many Welcome Bonuses may look great on paper, but may be less than great for the player. Before signing up with a new online casino, take the time to read every aspect of the terms and conditions thoroughly. Many players don't bother to do this, only to be disappointed later when the expected bonus fails to materialize. Much more often than not, these players have not been cheated out of the bonus. They lost out because they did not meet all of the casino's terms and conditions. Some casinos place additional restrictions (i.e., higher playthrough requirements) if you are of a certain nationality. This information is also disclosed on the website. Avoid playing at a casino where you are not treated the same as all other players.

Lastly, do the math and figure out exactly how much money you will lay out in deposits, how big of a bonus you will get in return, and how much the bonus associated playthrough will cost. Some casinos offer a choice of several different bonuses. The so-called high roller bonus is not always the better one even when you can afford it. Occasionally, you might come across a casino offering alternative ways of taking the bonus and find one that gives you a real overlay. This reviewer spotted an instance where $300 more in bonus money was possible taking one of the casino's bonuses as opposed to another, with exactly the same deposit.

On the other hand, bigger bonuses are not always better. You might be thinking why settle for a $200 bonus at one casino when another is offering $1,000. Enormous bonuses, more often than not, also mean enormous deposits and enormous wagering requirements. Unless you can afford to bet at that level without the bonus, don't rely on the bonus to artificially boost your bankroll and force you to play at a much higher level than you would ordinarily. If you have a limited bankroll, limit your deposits and bet size to what you can afford. There is nothing wrong with making a small deposit and taking less than the maximum bonus.

Now that you understand what the Welcome Bonus is all about and how to tell a good one from a not so good one, you can use these bonuses to your advantage. Welcome Bonuses, used wisely, not only make playing online even more exciting, they can help you win.