You've probably seen that most online casinos advertisements usually offer some sort of bonus or FREE money to get you to start playing there. Like most things in the world, nothing really comes free, so before you start claiming this free money and then getting upset that you've been scammed, I suggest you keep reading and see how this all works.
First of all, you may ask; why do online casinos even offer this "free" money?
It's part of their marketing and differentiation strategy. In a nutshell, online casinos are generally "skins" of a specific software provider, so actually behind the different owner, graphics, licensing etc under the bonnet there's not much difference between let's say all Playtech powered casinos, or all Microgaming powered ones.
So, if they are mostly the same below the hood, there needs to be some sort of difference which will convince you to play at "X" online casino and not "Y". Besides the graphics, licensing, support and reputation, another way to pitch to potential players is by giving them something, in this case, a bonus.
Having put that out of the way, the next question you might ask yourself is: OK, so Casino X is offering $5,000 free, maybe I'll sign up, take my $5,000, play them out and go on to Casino Y.
The answer here is pretty simple as well. In order to claim bonuses at at an online casino, you will usually need to make a deposit, unless it's specifically stated that you don't, but we'll get to that later.
Before we sink into the beef of the different types of bonuses offered at online casinos, here are a few extra terms and points you should be aware of, so you can clarify them with a support representative before claiming a bonus, just so you know where you stand and what you're claiming.
1. Wagering requirements: Most bonuses have wagering or playthrough requirements, meaning that you need to play a certain amount before you can withdraw winning from your account. On average wagering requirements are usually between 15 to 40 times, however pay attention to what you are required to wager. In some cases it will be just the bonus times X and in others you will need to wager the bonus + your deposit amount X times. The latter by the way is more common.
Another tidbit you should pay attention to with regards to wagering requirements is, that at most online casinos, if you request a withdrawal before you have completed the wagering requirements, all your winnings to date will be void. Not really fair, but this is reality.
2. Games played: Make sure you read the T&Cs in this case. Because slots games are generally the most profitable games for online casinos, many bonuses tend to be valid only for slots games. Usually scratch cards and keno will comply with this rule.
In other cases, you will be allowed to play your bonus on all games; however not all games will count 100% towards the playthrough requirements. For example play on slots will count 100% but roulette will only count 30%, meaning that you will actually need to wager over three times more in order to clear the wagering requirements and withdraw your winnings.
3. Minimum deposit requirement: In most cases, in order to claim a bonus you will be required to make a minimum deposit, which again can vary. It's generally a small amount which you will probably deposit anyway. It's usually not over $50.
Now that we're all on the same page and speaking the same language, it's time we went through the main types of bonuses available at most online casinos.
1. A Match bonus is the most common type of bonus. For every $ you deposit, you will be credited X% of what you deposited by the casino. So, if, for example, casino Z is offering a 100% match bonus, deposit $100 and the casino will give you an extra $100 in bonus money. This means that actually start playing at the casino with $200. Match bonuses are almost always limited to a certain maximum bonus amount you can claim. A match bonus can be a standalone bonus as part of a promotion (more common at US friendly online casinos) and/or as part of the welcome bonus
2. A welcome bonus is generally offered by most, if not all, online casinos to new players who sign up and make their first deposit at the casino. The welcome bonus is the sum of all the possible match bonuses you can accumulate as a new player at the casino over a specific period of time, or within your first X deposits, or a mix of the two; so if a casino advertises a $3000 welcome bonus, it's actually the maximum you can get with the 1st deposit bonus, second deposit bonus, monthly bonus etc, where if you deposit the maximum amount of each match bonus, you can reach the advertised welcome bonus. If you deposit less than needed for the maximum bonus in each stage, you won't reach the amount advertised in the welcome bonus. So, in fact, the welcome bonus advertised is the MAXIMIUM amount you can claim in bonus money during your first period of playing at the casino.
3. A No deposit bonus is pretty self-explanatory. It's a bonus you receive from an online casino which will enable you to play real money games without having to make a deposit. This is a great tool for online casinos to acquire new players as it lets them try out the casino without having to make a deposit. In some countries it helps solve the "trust" issue casino players have with online casinos. Many players who feel comfortable depositing and playing at one online casino will be wary when trying out another one they've never played at. Other players don't want to make a deposit without trying out the software and games so a no deposit bonus can definitely help here. Some online casinos give no deposit bonuses as part of their standard offering and others steer well away from such bonuses as they claim that they tend to attract the wrong type of players, i.e. players who have no intention of playing for real money in the first place and that it just puts a strain on the support team with no actual outcome. I think that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle and that people claim no deposit bonuses for different reasons.
No deposit bonuses are generally for a pretty small amount, usually $10-$15 and they are either offered to potential clients directly by the casino or by websites affiliated with them. No deposit bonuses also have wagering requirements you need to complete before you are able to withdraw your winnings if you've been lucky.
4. Sticky/Play only bonuses are bonuses which you cannot withdraw from your account. If you get lucky and win and request a withdrawal, the bonus amount you received will be deducted off your winnings. Let's say you claimed a $50 sticky bonus and got lucky bringing your account balance to $500. Now you would like to withdraw your winnings and go celebrate with friends. The online casino will only allow you to withdraw $550 from your players account and $50, which is the sticky bonus amount, will be void. Play only bonuses are usually larger than match bonuses and the wagering requirements lower.
5. Payment method bonus: This is something that was initially common at Playtech powered casinos and has spread to many others as well over the years. Besides depositing at an online casino with your credit or debit card, there are many electronic options most of which offer instant fund transfers without the associated hassle and high fees. Many of these alternative payment methods, as they are widely called, offer their services to people without a credit check and you can transfer money from your bank account discreetly. Some are even pre-paid cards you can buy at a kiosk. Just for using these alternative payment methods you can receive an extra 10-15% bonus on every deposit you make in addition to any other bonus you claim. Be sure to check the cashier section before you sign up to an online casino you've never played at as this can definitely be to your advantage.
6. Most online casinos have a Loyalty/VIP Club scheme where you can redeem bonuses in return for points you accumulated while playing. The more you play, the more points you earn and the better the point-bonus conversion rate becomes.
It is always important to check the specific T&Cs at the online casino you're playing or plan to play at because often you will not be allowed to withdraw the bonus amount or the bonus amount can be docked off your winnings.
OK, so I'm pretty sure you're now thinking how to take advantage of all this good, so here's the flip side of the card. Online casinos are extremely sensitive to bonus abuse, also known as bonus whoring, by players. Just like you can get expelled from a land based casino for counting cards for example, you can also get your players account locked at an online casino at the first suspicion they have of bonus abuse. You need to remember that at the end of the day gambling is entertainment and is supposed to be fun and exciting. It's not a day job and you can't really earn money at the casino. Bonuses add to the fun and excitements and at the end of the day, are only a marketing tool. Claim them, have fun with them, increase your excitement but don't expect log out richer.