We break down the different types of casino bonus, as well as whether they are worth your time.

If you visit any casino online, you’ll see massive banners claiming to give you free money. Welcome bonuses, free spins, deposit bonuses and more are often spread across every page of the casino.

The idea of getting free money can make any of us skeptical, but these bonuses really can give you free money to play with, and still let you win big with real cash. Of course, not all bonuses are created equal. Depending on the site you visit, and even your own gambling habits, some bonuses will be more worthwhile than others.

So how do you know if you should go for a bonus? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know.

Types of Bonuses

There is a wide variety of bonuses out there. While they might use different terms, they tend to fall into the following types:

No Deposit Bonuses are, as the name implies, bonuses that you get without needing to deposit any funds. These are usually small cash amounts, or a certain number of free spins, all played for real money rewards. However, there are typically payout and game limits, as well as wagering requirements (explained below).

Welcome Bonuses are designed to reward players for their first deposits. These are typically the most generous bonuses a casino will give, offering massive match bonuses of hundreds or thousands of dollars. But again, there will be wagering requirements and they might not be as worthwhile for all players.

Deposit Bonuses are for existing players. They might be set to certain days or for certain events, giving more deposit match bonuses as you continue to add funds to your casino account.

Free Spins are, as the name implies again, spins you can enjoy for free on top online slots. These are ideal for trying out new games, although again there can be payout and game limits, as well as wagering requirements.

Loyalty Rewards keep players coming back for more. If the best bonus you ever got was a welcome bonus, you’d just keep signing up to new casinos all the time. Loyalty rewards often include extra services at the casino, free play money, entry into exciting tournaments or events, bespoke gifts and even luxury travel.

Game Contribution Rules and House Edge

Before you decide on a bonus, one of the first things you’ll have to consider is which games you like to play. Are you a slots purist, only spinning the reels? Do you like to play card games like blackjack or poker, or perhaps some live dealer roulette?

Depending on the games you like, you’ll encounter a different house edge. As we know, all games are in the casino’s favor. As the saying goes, eventually, the house always wins.

But some games have better odds than others, and even variations of the same game can have different odds. American Roulette has a higher house edge than European Roulette, and simply adding a deck of cards to a game of blackjack can increase the house edge.

Most online slots have a return to player (RTP) of 90-98%. This is the amount you can expect to get back when you play, minus the house edge. So, for example, if you’re playing a game with a 2% house edge, your RTP will be 98%. For every $100, you can expect to get $98 back.

It’s never that simple, of course.

These calculations are done based on thousands of games across hundreds of players. Any individual player could get much better, or worse, results.

Of course, the casino takes this into consideration, which is why some games aren’t included in bonuses, or contribute less to wagering requirements. In general, slots contribute 100% and are a part of any bonus online. Poker, blackjack and video poker will contribute less, if they’re allowed at all.

Limits on Deposits or Payouts

There are usually limits put in place to protect the casinos while you’re using these bonuses. For example, you’ll want to check if your banking method of choice will let you even claim the welcome or deposit bonus. Most online casinos accept eWallets such as PayPal, Skrill or Neteller, but won’t let you claim a bonus when you use them.

There are also limits in terms of how much a casino will payout, and when. For example, a casino might limit the amount they will pay out on free spin winnings. This is usually capped at about $100, although some casinos may go higher or lower.

So don’t expect to hit a massive jackpot for free and simply pull out the money. Not only are there wagering requirements to meet, but you also might only be eligible to withdraw a certain amount.

Additionally, while a bonus is in use, most online casinos will have rules about withdrawing your winnings. The best online casinos have separate wallets for your casino account, with winnings from your real money deposits going back into your cash wallet, without impacting your bonus.

But some sites will only let you withdraw your funds once you’ve met the wagering requirements of a bonus, or else you forfeit your bonus and any associated wins.

Bonus Wagering Requirements

If bonuses literally just gave out free money, they’d all go bankrupt. Instead, they offer bonuses and then require you to play with them a certain amount. The idea is that you’ll actually use your bonus, and then be able to withdraw any winnings once you’ve converted the bonus cash into real money.

Wagering requirements can vary anywhere from 20x to 50x or even higher. They can apply to just the bonus amount, or the bonus and deposit amount. So, you may find a casino promising a $1,000 bonus with 35x wagering requirements on the bonus amount, with another casino offering a $700 bonus with a 25x wagering requirement on the bonus and deposit amount that result in the same play through requirements.

It’s important to check not only how large the bonus might be, but also if you will need to play through the bonus and the deposit amount, or simply the bonus amount. Similarly, free spins might have wagering requirements on the winnings, forcing you to keep spinning the reels before you can convert your winnings into real money.

When to Avoid a Bonus

Okay, so sometimes a bonus is worthwhile, and sometimes it’s not. But how can you know?

Well, it comes down to math. First, you’ll need to determine the wagering requirements. As shown above, you simply multiply the wagering requirements by the bonus or bonus and deposit as needed.

So, a $1,000 bonus with a 35x wagering requirement is $35,000. A 100% match of $100 bonus that requires you to wager the deposit and bonus 25 times is ($100 + $100) x 25 = $5,000.

Okay, so now that you know how much you need to wager, you’ll want to add in the contribution rate. For example, slots typically contribute 100% towards the wagering requirements, so if you’re planning on playing slots you can skip this step. But if you’re planning on playing roulette, which typically contributes 10% towards bonuses, you’ll need to multiply that wagering amount by 100/10. Video poker might contribute 25% towards bonuses, which means multiplying by 100/25.

Here’s how it would work out with the above examples:

  • $1,000 bonus x 35 wagering requirement playing slots  = $35,000 play through
  • $1,000 bonus x 35 wagering requirement playing video poker = $140,000 play through
  • $1,000 bonus x 35 wagering requirement playing roulette = $350,000

Of course, you won’t be losing that amount of money, you’ll just be playing it through. You’ll probably win quite often while playing, depending on the house edge and your luck in a given game. Once you have the amount to play through, you’ll need to multiply it by the house edge of the game. This gives an indication of how much you can expect to lose while trying to meet the wagering requirements.

For example:

  • $1,000 bonus x 35 wagering requirement on roulette = $350,000 x 0.027 house edge in European Roulette = $9,450
  • $1,000 bonus x 35 wagering requirement playing video poker = $140,000 x 0.0046 in Video Poker = $644
  • $1,000 bonus x 35 wagering requirement on slots = $35,000 x 0.0265 house edge playing Big Bad Wolf = $927.50
  • $1,000 bonus x 35 wagering requirement on slots = $35,000 x 0.0377 house edge playing Gonzo’s Quest = $1319.

Clearly, the roulette player should avoid this bonus, as they’d stand to lose $9,450 trying to redeem the $1,000 bonus. Meanwhile, the video poker player would only probably lose $644 to get the $1,000 bonus, coming out ahead. The slots fan could have a rather different outcome depending on which game they play.

All these different elements can have an impact on the value of a bonus. In general, the odds are in favor of slot players, with some decent rewards for blackjack or video poker fans provided they contribute enough towards the play through requirements.

So, is a bonus worthwhile?

It truly depends on the wagering requirements of the game you plan to play and its house edge. Some bonuses can give you extra money to play with, while others simply don’t add up. Be sure to check before you claim a bonus to get the most value.

And remember, the point of playing casino games online is to have fun, not just win big. So think for yourself if the extra spins or hands of cards are worthwhile for the amount of excitement and thrills you’ll enjoy in the process.