If you’re new to online gaming then you may be a little confused by talk about “bonus codes” and “casino bonus offers”. The concept is simple but works a little differently from the way “bonus” may seem to imply.
The online casino market is competitive and the companies operating in this market rely on special promotions to attract and keep players.
Some bonus offers – or promotions – use codes to increase the funds you have on deposit. Some bonus offers throw in extra prizes rather than give you more money to gamble with.
Here is why casinos offer bonuses and how to use them.
Casinos need depositors
The great thing for nearly everyone about online gambling is that casinos offer “free play” options on most of their games.
Most of the time you don’t even need an account to play demo versions of games. You can play blackjack or roulette or spin slots all day long to get a feel for how the games work. This is a good experience for new players because it costs them nothing to learn how the games work.
On the other hand, the casinos pay for the software that runs the game, the computers that run the game, and the electricity the games use on their leased computers. So free play costs the casino money and it’s only using free play to attract new depositors.
When you deposit money into a casino account the money is still legally yours. They cannot use it to cover their bills. But being an active depositor (meaning you have money on account with the casino) helps their cash flow.
The best scenario for a casino is that a constant stream of people come and play its games for real money and lose. In reality the casinos must pay winners and allow people to withdraw their money. So having more depositors makes it easier for them to do that.
Convincing people to deposit money is the hard part
Legally a casino cannot promise you’ll win when you gamble. And everyone who has studied gambling for at least a day comes to the same conclusion: the games favor the house.
You’re more likely to lose than win but the chance of winning more than you bet is what makes gambling exciting. As long as everyone gambles for fun with money they can afford to lose it’s no different from going to a concert or paying for a day at a theme park.
So how do the casinos convince people to deposit money with them?
The first appeal is always the advertising. The casino tells you about its games, maybe some of its winners, and what the experience looks and feels like.
But the one thing casinos know everyone needs to gamble with is money – so they offer players the next best thing. Casinos create a form of “free credit”.
How online casino accounts work
Although this varies by casino, in general you create a player account and your money is deposited into 2 or more betting accounts. This practice confuses some people.
A player account records the following information:
- Your name and personal identifying information
- Your banking information
- Your gameplay history
- Your deposit and withdrawal history
- How many betting accounts you have active
If you’re only interested in casino games (slots, table games, etc.) then you’ll only see one betting account. If you play casino games and make sports bets then you may see two betting accounts.
The separate betting accounts are necessary to ensure your bonus offers are managed separately. There may also be different eligibility and wagering requirements associated with each type of wager.
Many online casinos also allow players to transfer money from a main deposit account to a game balance. In other words, if you have $1000 on deposit and wish to play a specific slot game, you may have to transfer part of your $1000 to that slot game.
The game-balance account works like a ticket in a land-based casino, where you deposit cash into the machine and withdraw a ticket that you can transfer to another machine or turn in for money at the cashier window.
Your casino account is not transferable. It is assigned to you and only you may use it. Intentionally allowing someone else to use your gambling account is illegal and a casino has the right to withhold winnings and to close accounts if they catch players cheating or otherwise engaging in illegal activity.
By the same token, any bank accounts you associate with your player account must be yours as well. This requirement exists in many industries. It’s created by law to protect people from identity theft, electronic fraud, and more.
Hence, you cannot legally fund your player account with someone else’s banking information.
A bonus promotion is like free money
Bonus offers increase the balance in your account. When you join a casino that offers a 100% bonus that means for every dollar you deposit when you sign up the casino deposits an additional dollar of “house credit” in your account.
The difference between the “house credit” (the bonus money) and real credit is that you don’t have to pay it back. You’re not borrowing money from the casino via a promotion. But there are usually limits on what you can do with the money.
The most obvious limit is that you cannot deposit $100, get a $100 matching bonus, and then withdraw $200. That would be a great way to make money but the casinos would go out of business. No one would have to gamble in order to win.
No matter how much you get in the way of bonus money, you’re only allowed to withdraw what you deposit and what you win from playing the games.
There may be additional limits on the bonus money.
Every bonus offer is different
A casino may offer a welcome or sign up bonus but they run other promotions. There may be tournaments, weekly offers, or holiday deposit bonus specials.
Every deposit bonus is designed to increase the value of your next deposit. Each bonus offer comes with its own terms and conditions. They also usually expire on their own.
To distinguish between the bonus offers the casinos assign special codes, like “BONUS100”. You enter the codes into the forms you use to set up your deposits.
Bonus code fields are optional. You don’t have to use a bonus code to make a deposit.
Deposit bonus offers may have playthrough requirements
A playthrough or rollover requirement means you must make a certain number of wagers. A typical playthrough requirement is a multiple of your deposit, often in the 25X range for slot games.
If you deposit $500 then you must make $25,000 in wagers. That sounds like a lot of money but slot games pay back many prizes. And you could have as much as $1000 to play with depending on the welcome bonus.
Deposit bonus offers may be risk-free bets
Instead of requiring a large deposit and playthrough, a casino may offer risk-free bets. These are popular among sports betting enthusiasts and people who make small bets.
A risk-free bet may be a “no deposit” bonus offer, or a “free bet” offer. The rules vary by casino but you don’t always have to make a deposit. The bonus offer is for a small amount, usually in the $10 to $25 range.
A risk-free bet may be a refund offer. These bets often entail more money than the “no deposit” bonuses. A casino may offer to reimburse you up to $200 or more if you lose your first bet.
All risk-free bets have some conditions. Read the offer details carefully.
You may be able to claim multiple deposit bonus offers
This also varies by casino and their joining promotions may change over time. Some websites may refer you to casinos with outdated offers – you can probably still sign up but may see different offers and terms.
A common example of a multiple signup bonus is where the casino awards you a free small bet in the $10-25 range and also allows you to use a bonus deposit code for a matching deposit.
Some promos (or bonus offers) are more like extra prizes
Some casinos may create promotional offers that work automatically. Just by wagering money on special types of bets (often in the sports betting sections), you become eligible for additional prizes if certain conditions are met.
These kinds of bonus prizes usually come with their own terms and conditions. As an example, suppose the bonus prize is $500,000 and there are multiple winners. The casino usually divides the prize among all the winners.
Example 1: A welcome bonus offer
Suppose you sign up for a casino with a 100% match welcome bonus. The bonus is limited to your first $500. I will use the code “WELCOME500” for this illustrative example.
Do you need to deposit the $500 all at the same time?
While this varies by casino, many allow you to break up the deposit across multiple transactions. The casino’s software knows when you have met the qualifying conditions.
As you fill out the form to authorize the transfer of money from your bank to the casino, you must enter the “WELCOME500” code into the “promo” field or box. This is what activates the bonus offer.
When the casino processes your transaction it adds an additional amount of money to your house account balance.
Example 2: A free sports bet parlay bonus offer
A casino may make a sports betting offer about a multi-team parlay of point spreads. A parlay is a group of bets on 2 or more teams.
You must wager a minimum amount on these spreads. If all of your teams cover their spreads then you win a normal bet.
The bonus kicks in if all the teams do better than their spreads. Usually a minimum extra margin is required to be eligible for the bonus.
It’s a lot like entering a sweepstakes because you’re not making an extra bet. The casino is enticing more people to place bets by sweetening the deal. Of course, the likelihood of meeting the bonus prize conditions is very low.
Example 3: Using three bonus offer promotions
A player named Joe decides to join a casino that offers 3 signup promotions:
- A free bet
- A deposit match bonus
- A parlay bonus prize
To participate in all 3 offers Joe must first register with the casino – that means create an account. There will be a “bonus code” field somewhere in the registration form. He would put the bonus code (e.g., “FREE10SIGNUP”) in that field. Once the registration process is complete Joe will be notified he is eligible for the free bet.
Next, Joe makes a deposit. He fills out the banking information in another form, uses another bonus code (e.g., “WELCOME500”), and authorizes a transaction of $250. The casino deposits an additional $250 (“house credit”) in his account. He may only be able to use that house credit on certain types of bets.
Finally, Joe decides he wants to bet $250 on a parlay with a $50,000 promotional bonus prize. To qualify he must pick 5 teams for his parlay and bet a minimum of $200. He’ll win part of the $50,000 prize if all his teams beat their spreads by a minimum margin.
If bonus codes seem a little overwhelming at first, that’s understandable. There are so many bonus offers available it’s impossible to keep up with them all.
Casinos introduce new promotions on a monthly or seasonal basis to attract more occasional players back to their accounts. But there may also be daily or weekly promotional offers.
Once you’ve joined the casino, check out their promotions page on a regular basis. You may also be asked for permission to send you promotional offers. These are important to regular players but not so important to everyone else.
As always, have fun and practice good financial management. Gambling should be fun and safe for everyone.