Offering online casino bonuses is a highly effective approach when it comes to enticing new players and retaining the action of existing ones. Bonus redemption is also an excellent way to boost your initial bankroll and extend your playtime. With that in mind, you should never jump at these offers without carefully perusing their terms and conditions.
Bonus terms are hardly the most exciting read but you should always go through them unless you are looking to get duped. Some casino bonuses offer more favorable terms while others are straight out predatory, aiming to lure unsuspecting players in and put them at a disadvantage.
Players are always on shaky ground when gambling with bonus credits since most online casinos do not take promotional abuse lightly. Customers who take unfair advantage of promotional incentives face serious repercussions like account closure and confiscation of winnings.
However, some operators intentionally incorporate predatory clauses in their promotional terms so they can easily accuse players of breaches and prevent them from gaining any value from their bonuses. Here are some of the biggest red flags you should watch out for to avoid getting duped.
Impossibly High Wagering Requirements
Regardless of their type, almost all online casino bonuses come with wagering requirements, also known as playthrough. This condition is nearly universal regardless of where you play and requires you to wager the bonus value (and sometimes the associated deposit) a specific number of times before you can cash out the bonus and any resulting winnings.
The playthrough at fair online casinos is normally within the 30x to 35x range and sometimes excludes the triggering deposit.
Here is an example with a deposit-match bonus that shows you how to calculate your wagering requirements.
Example 1 - Standard Wagering Requirements
Online casino A offers a 100% welcome bonus up to $200
A new player deposits $150 and opts in for the offer.
The player receives $150 in bonus money on top of their $150 deposit.
The wagering requirements are set at 30x the bonus amount.
The new customer must wager 30 x $150 = $4,500 before they can cash out the bonus
The amount above may seem high to some people but many recreational gamblers play consistently enough to clear it within the designated time.
Now let us examine another example where the operator intentionally imposes significantly higher wagering on a massive welcome bonus to thwart customers.
Not only is the playthrough higher but it includes both the bonus and the deposit to make things even more difficult for players.
Example 2 - Higher Wagering Requirements
Online casino B offers a 300% welcome bonus up to $2,500.
A new customer opts in with a $150 deposit.
Casino B credits the player with $450 in bonus monies.
The wagering requirements are higher at 50x the deposit plus the bonus amount.
The unfortunate player must spend (50 x 2) x ($450 + $150) = 100 x $550 = $55,000
Most casual players will certainly fail to clear this playthrough within the stipulated time, which is precisely what casino B aims at with these high wagering requirements.
Just think about it. Who can afford to spend five-figure amounts on bonus wagering when the median household income in the US is $67,500 per year?*
As absurd as these bonus terms seem, some online casinos go as far as imposing preposterous wagering requirements of 99x, rendering bonus redemption altogether pointless.
*The data was retrieved from the US Census Bureau and reflects the median household income in the country for 2020.
Short Time to Clear the Bonus Wagering
Unscrupulous online gambling operators often pair their ridiculously high playthrough with equally ludicrous bonus expiration timeframes. Players must fulfill the wagering requirements within a reasonable time, although the timeframes are anything but feasible in some cases.
2What Reputable Casinos Do
Most gambling sites of good standing give you at least one month to clear the playthrough, which is pretty much the standard. Although rarely, we have come across casinos where bonuses expire three months after redemption.
3What Unethical Casinos Do
The longer the time, the better your chances of meeting your playthrough and extracting value from the promotion. Unethical operators know this very well and intentionally cut down the timeframe to a couple of weeks at best.
The least reputable businesses deliberately do not specify any expiration dates, leaving players with the impression they have indefinite time to wager the bonus. The customer learns about the timeframes only after the casino has voided their free credits.
Never opt in for promotions at casinos that give you insufficient time to clear the wagering. When you fail to meet the requirements in time, the casino will immediately remove the bonus funds from your account along with any winnings you have accrued during free play.
Only Slots Are Eligible for Clearing the Bonus Wagering
Game weighting is another thing you must pay close attention to when playing with bonus money. The term ‘weighting’ refers to the contribution a given casino game has toward clearing the wagering requirements.
Many players fail to notice that different games contribute differently to the bonus playthrough. The table below is for reference purposes only as the exact weighting depends on where you play. Player-friendly bonus terms allow you to play almost all available casino games, although some releases have lower weightings than others.
|Classic and Video Slots*
|House-Banked Poker (Pai Gow, Casino Hold’em Poker, Triple Card Poker, Caribbean Stud Poker, etc.)
|Blackjack, Hi-Lo, Roulette, Baccarat, Video Poker, Live Dealer Games
*Note that select slot releases may be fully excluded from the bonus wagering, having no contribution whatsoever toward clearing the requirements.
Low Caps on Bonus Winnings
Imposing restrictions on the maximum bonus-related winnings players can cash out is another form of damage control adopted by online casinos. The practice aims to protect operators in the event of a customer chalking up massive wins during bonus play. The caps vary based on gambling operator, bonus type, and a player’s loyalty status.
No deposit bonuses and free spins typically have the lowest caps, with most casinos restricting the withdrawable winnings to $100. Here is how this works:
Example - Low Caps on Bonus Winnings
A player deposits $10 and receives 50 free spins as a bonus.
The casino caps the cashable profits from free spins at $100.
The player gets lucky and wins $250 with the free spins.
The player requests a withdrawal after clearing the bonus playthrough.
The casino sends $100 and removes the remaining $150 from the player’s balance.
Similar withdrawal restrictions sometimes apply to deposit-related bonuses as well. The ceiling is often determined by the amount of the triggering deposit. For example, if you deposit $100 for a bonus with a 15x ceiling on maximum withdrawals, you will be able to cash out no more than $1,500 from the promotion.
Unscrupulous operators impose very low limits on bonus-related winnings, which sometimes renders promotional participation altogether worthless. To fully benefit from your free play, we recommend you look for online casinos with higher limits or no caps on bonus winnings.
Very Low Ceiling on Maximum Bets
While perusing the terms and conditions of a bonus, you will inevitably notice they contain a clause that restricts the maximum bets you can make while clearing your wagering. The restriction is a form of damage control from the casino’s perspective. This rule serves two purposes:
- It prevents smart players from quickly meeting the playthrough.
- It increases the number of bets players must place to withdraw a bonus.
The more bets you make over time, the closer you get to the house edge inherent to all casino games. The house advantage begins to manifest itself after thousands of rounds. In other words, risking $10,000 on a single bet is not the same as placing ten thousand bets of $1 each.
The maximum bets most casinos allow with active bonuses are usually $5 to $10 for slots and $20 to $30 for other permitted games. Anything lower than that is disadvantageous for bonus players and we advise you to stay away from promotions with such terms. Even more so if the casino restricts you only to playing slots and keno games where the house edges are higher.
Non-Cashable aka ‘Sticky’ Bonuses
We can distinguish between two main types of deposit-triggered bonuses, cashable and non-cashable. Cashable bonuses are exactly what they sound like – the player can cash out the entire bonus amount along with any resulting winnings after meeting the attached wagering requirements.
Alas, not all online casinos can boast of such generosity. Many gambling operators offer non-cashable ‘sticky’ bonuses intended solely for wagering purposes. The free credits remain in your bonus balance until you fulfill the playthrough. The casino then removes the bonus from your account and allows you to cash out only the winnings you have accrued during free play.
One issue with non-cashable bonuses is that they are often skewed so that the average gambler loses money while wagering to release the bonus winnings into their cash balance.
Withdrawal Restrictions Related to Bonuses
At fair online casinos, players can request a withdrawal from their real-money balance prior to clearing the playthrough of an active bonus. The casino will then cancel the bonus, void the associated winnings, and process the requested withdrawal.
Less ethical operators sometimes lock your entire cash balance, making it impossible to withdraw anything, not even your own money, unless you fulfill the wagering requirements. There are many variations of this predatory clause but the wording is usually something among these lines:
“If a player has opted in for a bonus or a promotion, it is their sole responsibility to ensure all applicable wagering is cleared before requesting a withdrawal. Failure to clear the wagering requirements results in the withdrawal request being denied.”
We consider this clause predatory and unfair to players and suggest you take your action elsewhere if you see a similar phrasing in the terms and conditions of your chosen casino.
Bonus terms and conditions may be intimidating, especially if you are less experienced at online gambling, but you still have to read them carefully. By doing so, you ensure you do not overlook any important rules that could lead to bonus forfeiture due to term violations. This practice also helps you spot predatory terms like those discussed above and sift out the promotions that give you the best value for your money.