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Last Updated: February 10, 2020

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Casino Bonuses, Terms, Playthrough & What it Means for Players

Introduction

Many online casinos offer bonuses of varying lucrative levels for you, the player. While most bonuses will just serve to make your deposit last longer, others will actually enable you to play at a slight-moderate advantage if you know what it is you are looking for.

We feature dozens, if not hundreds, of online casino bonuses all over this site. One of the most important aspects of an offer is the playthrough, also referred to as the wagering requirement. What does playthrough bonus mean? In short, playthrough refers to how many times a player must wager the bonus balance, deposit or both before a withdrawal or cashout is permitted. The majority of casino offers are subject to a playthrough.

How much time you will want to take visiting all the casinos to shop for the bonus right for you may vary depending upon how serious of a player you are, but it is important for all players to understand and adhere to the Terms & Conditions when accepting a bonus.

Whether you are playing at an advantage or not, it is important for players to understand the Terms & Conditions of online casino bonuses to be sure not to run afoul. A serious enough violation of Terms & Conditions can result in adverse action ranging from forfeiture of the bonus and any associated winnings up to and including not being permitted to play at a casino anymore.

The vernacular of these bonuses also varies dramatically from one casino to another. While some Bonus Terms are straightforward, it almost seems like one has to be a lawyer to understand others. Today we are going to try to unpack some of these Bonus Terms for you into a few categories:

  1. Common Bonus Terms & Conditions
  2. Unique Bonus Terms & Conditions
  3. Bonus Terms to Avoid if Advantage Playing
  4. How Does the Math Work?
  5. Different Types of Bonuses

1.) COMMON BONUS TERMS

There are a number of Terms & Conditions that, while the wording may vary slightly, will be generally the same at any online casino that you might visit.

It's also important to understand that there will be General Terms & Conditions that could apply to the Bonus but are not necessarily listed under the Bonus Terms. For that reason, if there are separate pages of a website for General Terms and Bonus Terms, then you will want to thoroughly digest both pages to see if any of the General T&C's apply to your bonus. It's always a good idea to be cognizant of the T&C's as a general rule, anyway.

bovada bonus

For our example casino, we are going to look at the Bonus Terms and General Terms for a few promotions of one of our old favorites; Bovada Casino.

Conveniently, the special Bonus Terms for the $3,000 Welcome Promotion at this website are located on the same page as the promotion itself. We want to give a hearty, "Kudos," to Bovada for making their T&C's so easy to find, as some other casinos tend to bury them on separate pages of the website.

The example promotion is very simple, it's a 3x Welcome Bonus for up to $3,000 via a 100% deposit match. In other words, up to three times, a player can deposit $1,000 and will be given another $1,000, "Match," to play.

Let's unpack some of the Terms relevant to this bonus that you will find with any bonus:

playthrough_requirements

A.) Playthrough Requirements

From that page, we see that the rules related to Playthrough Requirements are as follows:

  1. Once the bonus code has been redeemed, players must meet the playthrough requirements before being able to redeem the code again.
  2. Only activity following the bonus code redemption counts towards fulfilling the rollover requirements.
  3. The deposit plus bonus amount is subject to a 25X playthrough requirement before the deposit, bonus amount and any winnings can be withdrawn.
  4. Forfeiting this bonus will result in this bonus and any subsequent winnings associated with this bonus to be removed.
  5. Bonus funds cannot be used for play on Live Dealer games.
  6. Craps and Live Dealer play do not count toward meeting rollover requirements for withdrawal.
  7. All games, except Craps and Live Dealer, contribute towards playthrough requirements; however, certain games may have a greater contribution than others. For more information please view our wagering contribution
  8. Bonus funds cannot be used for play on Live Dealer games.

And From Bovada's Terms And Conditions Page:

  1. The withdrawal of winnings is subject to Bovada verification procedures. This can include but is not limited to providing proof of address and government-issued identification. If we are satisfied that you have complied with the Terms, all Anti Money Laundering and fraud-screening requirements, and all rules relating to the Games and any related bonuses, the payout shall be made to you. The manner in which the withdrawal is processed may be restricted, depending on the means by which the initial deposit(s) was/were made to the applicable Account. Without limiting the foregoing, we reserve the right to conclude your withdrawal request by an alternative method or process at our discretion. If, for whatever reason, a payout request cannot be approved, a Customer Service Representative will contact you.
  2. Bonus programs are intended for recreational players only. Professional players or players considered, in our sole discretion, to be abusing the bonus system by any means may have bonuses revoked and be subject to further sanctions. Bonus abuse may be defined as (but not restricted to) clients cashing out for the purpose of re-depositing, depositing on top of an existing balance, players deemed to be manipulating or otherwise changing wagering or playing behaviour (bet, game type, bet structure or other pattern of betting) for the purposes of circumventing wagering requirements, or creating new Accounts that they are using themselves. Sanctions may be in the form of increased rollover requirements, loss of bonus privileges, balance forfeiture and account closure for the offending Account as well as any linked Accounts. We reserve the right to restrict eligibility for special offers and bonuses when necessary. This includes but is not limited to placing geographic restrictions on match bonuses due to bonus abuse. Bonus funds cannot be used on games that do not contribute to rollover.
  3. We do not allow the mixing of No-Deposit bonuses (e.g. Free Chips, Free Spins, Cashback/Insurance Bonuses etcetera) and deposits. If a deposit is made while a No Deposit Bonus is active, the wagering requirements and maximum allowed cash-out of the No Deposit bonus will still apply. The deposit amount will be credited to your balance, however the deposit amount is not considered to be in active play and any subsequent winnings are subject to the wagering requirements and maximum allowed cash-out of the No Deposit bonus until your balance is equal to or less than the deposit amount plus any existing balance available prior to the bonuses redemption.
  4. Free bonuses are not be redeemed consecutively. If you have redeemed one No Deposit bonus a real money deposit needs to have been made in the interim for you to be eligible to redeem a second No Deposit bonus. Redeeming two or more No Deposit bonuses in a row can result in the removal of subsequent winnings.
    Bonus funds cannot be used for play on Live Dealer games.

Again, while the verbiage may differ slightly, every online casino is going to have wagering requirements as relates this type of bonus. Let's go ahead and unpack these, one by one:

1.) Once the bonus code has been redeemed, players must meet the playthrough requirements before being able to redeem the code again.

This is actually a semi-unique term that not every online casino has. What this term means is that win or lose, the player must meet the full playthrough requirements before taking out this bonus another time. In other words, if you deposit $1,000 and get a $1,000 match, then slot games would have a playthrough requirement of $50,000. If the player loses the deposit and bonus funds after $30,000 in playthrough, then the player would have to play through an additional $20,000 in bets on a future deposit before being able to take this bonus again on yet another deposit.

Other online casinos have a rule that you cannot take another bonus while the playthrough on a current bonus is active, but if the deposit + bonus funds are lost, then the playthrough, "Resets," if the player wishes to take a new bonus. This is not the case with Bovada. Therefore, it is important to understand that you will need to complete the entire playthrough before ever taking this bonus again.

2.) Only activity following the bonus code redemption counts towards fulfilling the rollover requirements.

This is an extremely standard rule and almost every online casino will have some version of it. All this means is that, if you make a deposit without taking a bonus, any play that you do will not count towards the wagering requirements for a bonus unless you have already redeemed the bonus.

Simply put, if you are going to use a bonus, make sure to get your bonus funds before playing any games so that all of your wagering counts towards the playthrough.

3.) The deposit plus bonus amount is subject to a 25X playthrough requirement before the deposit, bonus amount and any winnings can be withdrawn.

Once again, this is a very simple and nearly Universal term. All this means is that the Wagering Requirements (playthrough) must be completed before any withdrawals can be made. This will also include your deposit nearly Universally, so if you make a deposit, even that amount is, "Stuck," until you complete the wagering requirements.

In the case of a $1,000 deposit matched with a $1,000 bonus, (25 * $2,000) = $50,000 would need to be played through on slot games before any withdrawal could be made.

If you wish to play at an online casino with the ability to withdraw your funds and winnings anytime, then you will not wish to take a bonus. Almost all (probably all) online casinos attach your deposit to whatever bonus you are playing.*

*Some casinos will require that all deposit funds be wagered through at least 1x prior to withdrawal as an anti-money laundering safeguard.

4.) Forfeiting this bonus will result in this bonus and any subsequent winnings associated with this bonus to be removed.

This is another Bonus Term that is almost Universal amongst online casinos, though the way each casino employs it may be different.

Essentially, this means that any monies won off of bonus finds and the bonus funds themselves will be subtracted from your account if you decide you do not wish to have the bonus anymore. Since the bonus funds, "Play first," this means that you can only lose money or break even (if you are even or ahead) if you decide you, "Want out," of a bonus. If you have lost any amount of bonus funds, then the result of doing this will make your remaining balance less than your deposit.

If you think you might not wish to play through a bonus, then do not take the bonus in the first place. If you make a deposit, then check your balances to make sure that no bonus was applied to your account if you do not want one. If a bonus was mistakenly applied to your account, then contact customer support and ask for the bonus to be removed before you play at all.*

*Not many online casinos do this, but there are a few that automatically apply an eligible bonus to a player's account requiring a player to, "Opt-Out," if the player does not want the bonus. We are generally against this term, but some casinos have it anyway. Again, after making your deposit, make sure that no bonuses that you don't want have been applied to your account.

5.) Bonus funds cannot be used for play on Live Dealer games. Craps and Live Dealer play do not count toward meeting rollover requirements for withdrawal. All games, except Craps and Live Dealer, contribute towards playthrough requirements; however, certain games may have a greater contribution than others. For more information please view our wagering contribution. Bonus funds cannot be used for play on Live Dealer games.

"Bonus funds cannot be used for play on Live Dealer games," was so important that they said it twice!

The majority of casinos with Live Dealer games will either not allow bonuses to be used on such games, or in some cases, they will have different bonuses specifically for Live Dealer play. In the case of Bovada, it does not appear as though they offer a Live Dealer bonus at all. Perhaps they are concerned about card counting on Blackjack.

Electronic Craps may apparently be played with a Bonus, but it appears that any play from that will not count towards the Wagering Requirements. The majority of online casinos will have some games restricted for bonus play, so it is important to look for that as the specific games that are restricted vary. Some casinos will even restrict certain slot or keno games!

6.) Wagering Contributions

From #5, Bovada references, "For more information, please view our wagering contribution," which they keep on a separate page along with the full Bonus Terms & Conditions here.

Here are the Wagering Contributions for Bovada as of 10/03/2018:

Wagering Contributions

Percentage Contribution

Slots, Specialty Games (all types)

100%

Table Games (unless stated otherwise)

20%

Video Poker (all types) & Blackjack (unless stated otherwise)

10%

Single Deck & Double Deck Blackjack, Roulette, Baccarat

5%

Craps & Live Dealer (all types)

0%

The simple way to determine how much you would have to wager is to figure out how much 100% of the playthrough would be, and then divide it by the percentage expressed as a decimal. For example, if a player had a $1,000 deposit with a $1,000 bonus match, then the player would have $2,000 in total funds with a 25x Wagering Requirement thereby requiring $50,000 in wagering on slots.

Other Table Games would require playthrough of $50,000/.2 = $250,000

Video Poker + Blackjack would require playthrough $50,000/.1 = $500,000

The other games with 5% would require playthrough $50,000/.05 = $1,000,000

The key to identifying beatable bonuses is to know what type of bonus you are dealing with and then, if you want to try to beat a bonus straight up, to identify the expected loss given the playthrough requirements. We can actually do this in reverse by defining what percentage of an expected loss we could have whilst still breaking even overall.

To do this, simply take the playthrough, multiply by x and as long as the total is the amount of the bonus or less, you would have an expected profit on a straight up bonus. (Read: Flat Betting)

50000 * x = 1000

X = 1000/50000

X = .02 or 2%

In other words, a slot game would have to have a house edge of 2% (98% Return-to-Player), for the player to be at break even with this bonus. A lesser house edge is an advantage and a greater house edge is a disadvantage. The only way that is going to happen is if a Progressive puts the game in that kind of territory.

For Other Table Games:

250,000 * x = 1000

X = 1000/250000

X = .004 or 0.4%

For this, "Other Table Games," would have to have a House Edge or Element-of-Risk of 0.4% (99.6% RTP of all monies bet) for the player to be break even. A lower House Edge is an advantage, a greater house edge is a disadvantage.

You can do this yourself for the other game types, now that you see how it is done. Simply put, without, "Structuring your betting," there is no advantage to be found here, and maybe not even with bet structuring. Further, it will be important to understand whether or not bet structuring is even allowed.

 

Calculate Casino Bonus House Edge

  1. Enter the amount of the bonus you are planning to take.
  2. Enter the wagering amount as a multiple of the Bonus or Bonus + Deposit. If the wagering requirements are 25x, you would just put, "25," in this box.
  3. If you must meet the wagering requirements of the bonus and the deposit, check both boxes and put in the deposit amount.
  4. Put in the percentage contribution that the game you wish to play is.
  5. Hit, "Calculate," and the calculator will give you a breakeven house edge for any fully cashable bonus.

Wagering Requrements


 
 
other_bonus-specific_terms

B.) OTHER BONUS-SPECIFIC TERMS

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, many online casinos (Bovada included) have a page that only summarizes the Bonus Terms & Conditions while a separate page lists them in full. The full page, which we will link again for your convenience.

Lists other Bonus Terms as well as more complete versions of the summarized terms above.

1.) The withdrawal of winnings is subject to Bovada verification procedures. This can include but is not limited to providing proof of address and government-issued identification. If we are satisfied that you have complied with the Terms, all Anti Money Laundering and fraud-screening requirements, and all rules relating to the Games and any related bonuses, the payout shall be made to you. The manner in which the withdrawal is processed may be restricted, depending on the means by which the initial deposit(s) was/were made to the applicable Account. Without limiting the foregoing, we reserve the right to conclude your withdrawal request by an alternative method or process at our discretion. If, for whatever reason, a payout request cannot be approved, a Customer Service Representative will contact you.

This section is actually several terms wrapped up into one. Many online casinos would list some of these separately, but we will go ahead and unpack this whole thing as if they were listed individually.

Almost all online casinos will have some sort of verification procedures, and where Bovada says, "This can include...providing proof of address and government-issued identification…" almost all casinos will require both of these things upon making a withdrawal. Some casinos require you to send this information for multiple withdrawals, though most online casinos will only require it for your first withdrawal as long as you have done the subsequent withdrawals fairly recently.

Again, these verifications couldn't be more standard and they are just to make sure that you are the one making the withdrawal as well as the fact that you are the one who made your deposit. If a deposit was made by an account, then this is for the protection of the account holder so that their information is not being used fraudulently.

Make sure to pay special attention to what you are doing when signing up for an online casino. You will want all of your information to match the information on your identification and you will also want to understand that you will need a utility bill or credit card statement as proof of address that also matches. Don't make a headache for yourself by putting in incorrect information!

Bovada, as well as other online casinos, will also double-check to ensure that none of the Bonus Terms & Conditions (restricted games, wagering requirements) were violated. This is a common procedure, but sometimes an account will be flagged to have a human being look at it, so that process can sometimes take a few days.

The rest of the information is just saying that your payout method may not necessarily be the same as your deposit method. Make sure that you are able to accept withdrawals by way of the mechanism the casino uses to pay withdrawals before playing. This information is generally in the terms and conditions or, "Cashier," portion of a casino. If you have any questions of need clarification, you should contact customer service prior to making a deposit.

2.) Bonus programs are intended for recreational players only. Professional players or players considered, in our sole discretion, to be abusing the bonus system by any means may have bonuses revoked and be subject to further sanctions. Bonus abuse may be defined as (but not restricted to) clients cashing out for the purpose of re-depositing, depositing on top of an existing balance, players deemed to be manipulating or otherwise changing wagering or playing behaviour (bet, game type, bet structure or other pattern of betting) for the purposes of circumventing wagering requirements, or creating new Accounts that they are using themselves. Sanctions may be in the form of increased rollover requirements, loss of bonus privileges, balance forfeiture and account closure for the offending Account as well as any linked Accounts. We reserve the right to restrict eligibility for special offers and bonuses when necessary. This includes but is not limited to placing geographic restrictions on match bonuses due to bonus abuse. Bonus funds cannot be used on games that do not contribute to rollover.

Once again, we are sorry for how much information is rolled up into one, "Term," but this is how it appears on the Bovada website. We will break this down into separate parts to the best of our ability:

Many casinos have the stipulation that bonuses are to only be played by recreational players. Unfortunately, this is a pretty far-reaching term that enables just about any casino to decide that a player playing with an advantage is, "Abusing the bonus system."

From a practical standpoint, any player who is not doing something such as, "Bet structuring," will be fine. If an advantage is to be had by flat betting a certain amount, which does not seem to be the case with Bovada, then it would be very difficult for a casino to suggest that a player is abusing the bonus system.

If you win on a bonus and then cash out, but almost immediately make another deposit in order to take another bonus, you may be accused of, "...cashing out for the purpose of re-depositing…" As a practical matter, any reputable online casino will not make this allegation if the player is not playing at an advantage even with the bonus. If you're just playing slot machines or other games without, "Bet structuring," you're generally going to be fine.

If you make a deposit for an additional bonus while you still have funds available, you may be accused of, "...depositing on top of an existing balance…" The easiest way to avoid being accused of this is simply to withdraw all of your funds when you want to make a withdrawal and then deposit again only when the balance is $0.00. Quite honestly, we have no idea why Bovada would have an issue with such behavior in the first place.

The biggest one is Bet Structuring, which Bovada covers with, "...players deemed to be manipulating or otherwise changing wagering or playing behavior (bet, game type, bet structure or other pattern of betting) for the purposes of circumventing wagering requirements, or creating new Accounts that they are using themselves…." In other words, Bovada doesn't want players betting big to try to hit a huge win and then, "Grinding out," the playthrough requirements with small bets.

Some casinos, though Bovada does not appear to be one of them, actually directly state maximum permitted wagers (or give a wager range) that is permitted while playing on a bonus. If this sort of term must exist at all, we definitely think it is better to directly tell the player the limits ahead of time. Either that or to have the games themselves limit players to wagers within that range while the bonus is in effect.

Occasionally, players will hit a big win on slots that they then hope to, "Grind out," on a lower edge lower Variance game, such as Blackjack, to satisfy the Wagering Requirements. Generally speaking, casinos will not do anything to you just for switching games from time to time, but if your account is reviewed (and it probably will be) they can tell if you are doing it in a structured way.

The penalties for doing any of these things may include, "...Sanctions may be in the form of increased rollover requirements, loss of bonus privileges, balance forfeiture and account closure for the offending Account as well as any linked Accounts. We reserve the right to restrict eligibility for special offers and bonuses when necessary."

Generally, an online casino will only cause you to forfeit your balance if you violate the terms in a pretty egregious way. Obviously, this is not a popular decision and will often cause the player to complain to sites such as this one and our sister site, LCB.org, so a casino is only going to cause a player to forfeit a balance with good reason. It will almost always be investigated if this happens and the player complains.

Casinos will often revoke bonus privileges or allow a player to withdraw all of his/her funds and close that player's account if the casino suspects the player of bonus abuse. While these are certainly not the most popular decisions, it is fair for a casino to restrict service to whoever it wants to as long as the player is paid before this happens.

3.) We do not allow the mixing of No-Deposit bonuses (e.g. Free Chips, Free Spins, Cashback/Insurance Bonuses etcetera) and deposits. If a deposit is made while a No Deposit Bonus is active, the wagering requirements and maximum allowed cash-out of the No Deposit bonus will still apply. The deposit amount will be credited to your balance, however the deposit amount is not considered to be in active play and any subsequent winnings are subject to the wagering requirements and maximum allowed cash-out of the No Deposit bonus until your balance is equal to or less than the deposit amount plus any existing balance available prior to the bonuses redemption.

This is a very standard term shared by most casinos. In fact, many online casinos will not allow a person to take a, "Welcome Bonus," if they have previously used a No-Deposit Bonus at all, so Bovada is actually pretty liberal on this one. In any case, almost no casino will allow multiple bonuses to be played simultaneously, and any attempt to do so will likely result in account closure and/or bonus forfeiture.

It is very important to note that the maximum cashout of the No Deposit Bonus will apply if you make a deposit while that bonus is going, so don't do that! Your deposit may be more than the maximum you can cash out on the No Deposit Bonus...as the maximum cashout tends to be quite small.

4.) Free bonuses are not be redeemed consecutively. If you have redeemed one No Deposit bonus a real money deposit needs to have been made in the interim for you to be eligible to redeem a second No Deposit bonus. Redeeming two or more No Deposit bonuses in a row can result in the removal of subsequent winnings.
Bonus funds cannot be used for play on Live Dealer games.

Our final Condition from this section is one that is shared by most (but not all) online casinos. Generally speaking, online casinos do not want you to take No Deposit Bonuses over and over again hoping to eventually win while, "Free-Rolling," them. No Deposit Bonuses are really just meant so that you can try out a few of the games and maybe win a few bucks. While taking a No Deposit Bonus (and never playing at the casino again if you lose) is technically an advantage play, the average expected value you get from such a bonus is VERY minimal, especially considering the maximum allowed withdrawal.

regular_terms_that_affect_bonuses

C.) REGULAR TERMS THAT AFFECT BONUSES

We have discussed all of Bovada's bonus-specific terms, but it is also important for players to note that many of the regular Terms & Conditions at casinos will also have an impact on any bonuses being played. Once again, we will use Bovada as an example and determine what sorts of terms might apply:

  • Any Terms that have to do with identity verifications, deposits, withdrawals and anything else also apply to bonuses. Really, the first thing that you should do before playing at any online casino is to read the regular terms and conditions and make sure you understand them and think they are fair.
  • Any terms that have to do with only one account per household obviously also apply to bonuses. In fact, bonuses are pretty much the only reason why casinos care whether or not there is only one account per household, otherwise it wouldn't matter.
  • Occasionally, No Deposit Bonus terms will appear in the regular Terms & Conditions, rather than the Bonus Terms page, and that is the case with Bovada. The maximum withdrawal terms of their No-Deposit bonuses are as follows:

    4.9 Withdrawal of Bonus funds. Unless otherwise stated in the particular rules applicable to individual Activities, Games or Bonus promotions, any bonus funds that are credited to your Account (whether as a result of a prize, promotion, redemption or any other reason) shall be subject to rollover requirements before such bonus funds (and any associated winnings from such bonus funds) can be withdrawn. Unless otherwise stated in the bonus terms, no deposit bonuses under $100 will have a maximum cashout amount of $125, and no deposit bonuses over $100 will have a max cashout equal to 1X the bonus.

    Almost every casino, and maybe all of them, will have a maximum permitted withdrawal on a no-deposit bonus. The reason why is obviously because they don't want to get tagged for a huge jackpot on a player who is not even risking any of his/her own money.

D.) FINANCIAL TERMS RELEVANT TO BONUSES

Finally, there are some common Financial, (a.k.a. Cashier) terms that may be relevant to bonuses. Conveniently, Bovada puts a Financial Q&A on its own page.

The big one here is the general withdrawal limits. It is important to know that a player often cannot withdraw his entire balance after completing a bonus if the balance exceeds the amount per individual withdrawal allowed. This is something that you will want to understand and be fine with, especially if you are making a large deposit.

For example, the maximum check by courier withdrawal is $3,000 and may be requested only once per seven days. If you deposit $1,000 and have the good fortune, for instance, to run your balance up to $10,000, then it would take four separate withdrawals (which would take about a month in total) to get all of your funds.

unique_bonus_terms_conditions

2.) UNIQUE BONUS TERMS & CONDITIONS

Certain online casinos will have Bonus Terms & Conditions that are fairly unique to them and will also vary significantly from one casino to another. These are usually just more specific versions of the general conditions that we looked at above.

Believe it or not, Bovada actually has one of the simplest sets of Terms & Conditions for bonuses. While we obviously don't have the space to look at the Terms & Conditions for each of the hundreds, if not thousands, of online casinos out there, we can highlight a few types of terms that might be unique.

BET LIMITS

As we mentioned in the first section, many online casinos take serious action against players who they consider to be engaging in, "Bet Structuring." Oftentimes, a casino will not state any specific betting limits whilst playing on a bonus. That is unfortunate because these betting limits will often be less than the table limits for the game in question.

Set by Amount

In most of the cases in which an online casino restricts the amount a player can bet, and actually bothers to have specific restrictions, they will restrict it by amount.

Generally, a casino will say something like, "While playing on a bonus, a player may not make a bet of greater than $5 on a slot game or greater than $10 on a table game."

The specific amounts may vary from casino to casino, but they are usually pretty low to prevent players from, "Taking a shot," on Bonus Funds to then try to, "Grind out," the wagering requirements with low bets. Advantage players refer to this practice as, "Bet structuring."

It is important to look for these sorts of terms not only because you will not want to bet more than the casino permits whilst playing on a bonus, but furthermore, you will want to understand how long it's going to take to play a bonus!

Imagine a bonus has a $50,000 playthrough requirement on slots, with a maximum bet per spin of $5. If you can make 500 spins per hour, ($2500/hour) it is still going to take roughly 20 hours of play time to complete the bonus. That's a long time to spend playing a slot machine!

If you want to play Video Poker and the contribution is 10%, with a maximum bet of $5, then you are going to be looking at $500,000 in playthrough. Again, at 500 hands per hour, you are able to bet $2,500 per hour and would be looking at approximately 200 playing hours until you complete the Wagering Requirements. That's a long time!

Set by Multiplier

On rare occasions, some online casinos will set your wagering limits based on your lowest amount wagered compared to your highest amount wagered. For example, if they say your maximum bet can be no greater than 5x your minimum bet whilst playing a bonus, then if your lowest bet was $5, your highest bet cannot be more than $25.

It's definitely best not to forfeit your bonus by violating these rules. Again, you need to read through the Terms & Conditions thoroughly to see if any such rule exists.

The reason that a few casinos phrase the rule this way is so that higher limit bettors can enjoy making the big bets that they like without having the opportunity to structure the bets whilst playing a bonus.

Time Restrictions

Almost all online casinos say that a player's account is considered, "Inactive," after a certain number of days or months and such inactivity will cause the account to be closed and any balance forfeited. The reason that casinos have this rule is that they eventually need to be able to account for their money and usually, it's just a player who stops playing with a few cents or only a couple of dollars in his/her account and doesn't return. The casino needs to be able to account for that money sooner or later.

One thing that we bet most of you didn't know is that some casinos have a time restriction on how long a player has to complete the playthrough requirements of a bonus. In many cases, from the time a bonus is applied to a player's account, the player only has ninety (sometimes even thirty) days to complete the wagering requirements, lest the bonus is forfeited as well as any winnings.

Again, this is something to look for if you are planning to make a big deposit and take a big bonus. You want to make sure that you're going to have enough hours within that period of time to complete the wagering requirements so that you don't end up forfeiting the bonus funds and winnings.

Game Restrictions

We talked about game restrictions above as well as how different games contribute different percentages to the playthrough requirements. However, some casinos have it in their Terms that they do not want a player to switch game types (slots to tables) while on a bonus at all. This rule seems pretty rare, but it is an important one to look for and understand if it does exist so that you do not forfeit your bonus amount or winnings.

Deposits and Bonuses

Almost all casinos have some sort of rule about how many No-Deposit Bonuses a player can take in a row (or total) before a player must make a deposit. It is also important to understand that some casinos will occasionally require a player to make a deposit without taking ANY kind of bonus if a player has already taken one or more deposit bonuses.

Anything along these lines will appear in the regular Terms & Conditions, or Bonus Terms & Conditions, and is obviously important to look for.

3.) BONUS TERMS TO AVOID IF ADVANTAGE PLAYING

There are many Bonus Terms out there that are specifically designed to thwart advantage players, in fact, most of the terms out there are designed for this reason, if not to outright completely preclude the possibility of advantage play.

The first of these terms, as with Bovada, is obviously the term that directly states that Bonuses are for, "Recreational Players Only," which prohibits, "Professional Play."

It would obviously be better if Bovada (and others) would specifically define, "Professional Play," and certainly some casinos do, but usually, "If it walks, looks and quacks like a duck; it's probably a duck." Your average player is generally not going to structure bets in a way that yields a positive expectation, so if you know that is what you are doing, this condition probably applies to you. The average gambler is not cognizant of the various ways that a player can use bonus funds to, "Take a shot," as is often possible with, "Phantom," bonuses due to the reduced wagering requirements.

Most online casinos are not going to accuse players of this come withdrawal time unless they are almost absolutely sure that's what is going on. Again, refusing to pay out players or closing down accounts is not good publicity at all. In most cases, a casino will simply tell a player that he/she may not take out anymore bonuses and that will be sufficient to compel an advantage player to take his/her money and not play there anymore.

Ambiguous Terms

Advantage play at an online casino generally involves having a very specific angle with a very specific bonus on a very specific game(s). That being the case, if the Terms & Conditions as far as play restrictions, bet restrictions or game restrictions are ambiguous, they are best left avoided. Unfortunately, we would say that these sorts of terms at a good many online casinos are fairly ambiguous.

If a potential advantage play is so lucrative as to be nearly impossible to pass up, then an advantage player (or any other) will want to use the, "Live Chat," function to clarify the meaning of any ambiguous terms. Having done this, the smart player will then want to request an E-Mail transcript of the chatlog and will not make a deposit or play until having received this transcript.

The savvy player who does this will then have the chatlog clarifying the issue if the casino ever comes back and says that's not the way a particular term or condition works.

Without getting into too many specifics, let's say that playing Roulette is necessary for a player to have an advantage on a Phantom Bonus, but Roulette does not contribute to the Wagering Requirements. The Terms & Conditions are unclear about whether or not a player can play Roulette using Bonus funds, even though it doesn't count towards Wagering Requirements. This player may then go to chat and ask if Roulette can be played on Bonus Funds.*

*In some cases, players may not play a game that does not contribute to the Wagering Requirements AT ALL whilst on a bonus, though the Bonus Terms do not directly say that. In other cases, players may play whatever they want to. The reason this is relevant is certain bonuses can be played at an advantage, but only if a player is making high-volatility high-payout bets to then grind through the playthrough requirements later.

Generally speaking, especially for recreational players, it's better to avoid an online casino if a player believes that the Terms & Conditions are too ambiguous to understand. In fact, if you decide not to play at an online casino because you do not understand the terms, it would be good for everyone involved (and other players) if you E-Mail them and tell them so, or if you mention it on an online message board.

how_does_the_math_work

4.) HOW DOES THE MATH WORK?

We have addressed the math for specific types of advantage plays elsewhere on this site as well as on our greater family of websites, so this is really meant more as a general section.

The majority of online casinos no longer offer promotions (other than No-Deposit Bonuses) such that a player can enjoy a mathematical advantage. Even when they do, the advantage is often pretty small in terms of both value and percentage. On increasingly rare occasions, casinos will roll out a promotion with values in the hundreds of dollars. There have been promotions with values in the low thousands in the past, but those are EXTREMELY rare.

For those casinos who offer promotions that can be played advantageously, they can afford to do so because the vast majority of the players at those casinos will not play them advantageously. Unfortunately for recreational players looking for big plays, many online advantage players communicate with one another behind the scenes, and as a result, often tend to gravitate towards the same promotions. When this happens, the casino will often change some aspect of the promotion to make it no longer mathematically advantageous, or if it is, worth very little in expected cash value.

Unfortunately, the casinos have become MUCH more savvy than they were decades ago and are growing increasingly mathematically knowledgeable by the day. For that reason, the majority of online casino promotions (if the Terms and Conditions are adhered to) still result in a net expectation of losing money for the player. In fact, some promotions are so bad that the mathematical expectation is for the player to lose the entire amount of his bonus and deposit!

For example, let's again consider the $50,000 playthrough requirements of a $1,000 deposit and $1,000 bonus on Bovada. $2,000 is only 4% of $50,000, so that means that any slot machine game or Keno game with an RTP of 96% or less, which is a house edge of 4%, or greater, results in the mathematical expectation of the player losing his entire bonus + deposit.

Unfortunately, that describes every single Video Keno game that Bovada offers.

Of the slot games, most of the known house edges on the slot games that Bovada offers are greater than 4%. One notable exception is Rock On, which according to our review of Rival Software:

Has a thin house edge (for slots) of just 2%. Unfortunately, the result is an expected loss of $1,000 on $50,000 in total bets, which is the entire bonus amount on the deposit match. Still, assuming that the hold of Bovada's Rock On is only 2%, that means that the player can take the bonus and run through the playthrough requirements at a breakeven expectation. That's really the best a player can hope for on slots.

Whether or not to take a bonus with a negative expectation is completely up to the individual player. It's really a question of whether the player most values playtime or being able to withdraw his/her funds whenever he or she wants to.

Speaking personally, I don't play negative expectation games online at all, but if I were going to, I would play without a bonus if the bonus did not present a mathematical advantage. The reason why is that I might want to cash out if I had a good spin on slots or a good hand on Video Poker, but if I have not completed the Wagering Requirements, I would not be able to withdraw my winnings until doing so and might lose everything that I had won.

5.) DIFFERENT TYPES OF BONUSES

What type of bonus is being played is almost a Term & Condition unto itself.

The first thing that you should know is what the implications are of the varying types of bonuses, and what we will call the, "Subtypes," of those bonuses.

A.) No-Deposit Bonuses

A1.) No Deposit-Free Spins

The first type of No-Deposit bonus we will address is a free spins bonus. The way this works is that a casino will generally allow the player to make a certain number of free spins, at a certain bet level, on a certain game.

After the free spins have been made, the results are very rarely cashable. Generally speaking, the proceeds of the free spins are converted to Bonus funds with their own playthrough requirements (often restricted to slots only) from which only certain minimum and maximum amounts may be cashed out after the playthrough requirements have been completed.

For example, let's say you have 50 free spins each worth $0.10 on a particular game and you end up with $5.00 in bonus funds. You may need to wager these bonus funds 20x, which would be $100 in playthrough requirements after which if you have an amount between $20-$100 you can cash out. If you do not have enough to make the minimum withdrawal amount, then the amount will often be treated as a cash balance, but then you'll need to play something else until you hit the minimum cashout amount.

Finally, assuming you do all of this successfully, you might need to make a deposit in order to be allowed to withdraw the funds you won off of the initial free spins! This is especially often the case if you haven't deposited into the casino previously.

While there are exceptions few and far between, Free Spins are usually a ton of work overall for almost no expected value.

A2.) No Deposit-Bonus Funds

This is pretty simple, you sign up at the casino and they give you a straight up No-Deposit Bonus with funds credited directly to your bonus account. Almost always restricted to slots, though there are sometimes exceptions, these types of bonuses will always come with a playthrough requirement and will almost always have minimum and maximum withdrawal amounts allowed after the playthrough has been met.

If you complete the playthrough but have insufficient funds to make a withdrawal, then you can generally take any remaining funds and play whatever you want trying to hit the minimum withdrawal amount. Our advice is (generally) to play a low house edge Even-Money bet with such remaining funds and bet everything (or as much as it would take to hit the minimum withdrawal amount) until you either get there or lose it all.

Again, even online casinos aren't too eager to give a ton of free money away, so the value of such promotions is usually quite negligible.

A3.) No Deposit-Tournaments

This is the same thing, except you will participate in a slot tournament against other players and the prizes are usually either bonus funds (see A2) or free spins (see A1). While there must be a winner, the tournaments and prizes from the tournaments generally have very little expected value in cash.

Even with cashback bonuses, whatever type of bonus it is, it will usually translate into some type of Bonus Funds with playthrough requirements. There are a few casinos that give straight up cash back that only needs to be played through once, though.

B.) Deposit Bonuses

B1.) Deposit Bonuses-Cashable Bonuses

The way that a regular bonus works is quite simple: All of your deposit, winnings and initial bonus funds will be available as regular funds after the Wagering Requirements have been completed. This is the simplest type of bonus and the easiest to determine whether or not an advantage can be had playing a game whilst flat betting.

B2.) Deposit Bonuses-Phantom Bonuses

Phantom Bonuses can occasionally offer a player an advantage as long as the player is capable of making high variance bets for large percentages of the overall deposit + bonus funds.

The way that these bonuses work is that a player first plays his/her cash balance and then play switches over to the bonus balance only when the player has no cash balance. If the player requests a withdrawal after the wagering requirements have been completed, the bonus amounts will be removed from the player's account before the player is paid the withdrawal and/or when the wagering requirements have been met.

The best way to think of this sort of bonus for a recreational player is, "Second-Chance Money," when the amount of the initial deposit has been lost, this bonus gives you another crack and getting it back and hopefully more. For an advantage player, this type of bonus does not necessarily (depending on other terms) preclude advantage play, it just requires a more high variance strategy to make advantage play theoretically possible.

B3.) Deposit Bonuses-Sticky Bonuses

Sticky Bonuses are similar to Phantom Bonuses in that they cannot be cashed out, but they are dissimilar in the sense that they can be played multiple times. You will very rarely encounter these types of bonuses, but they can be lucrative in the sense that they can be advantage played in a similar fashion to a phantom bonus, but you can win on them multiple times.

When you complete the Wagering Requirements and request a withdrawal, the bonus funds cannot be withdrawn, but they do remain and can be played again. (And hopefully again and again).

Conclusion

Hopefully, this page has given you some idea of the different types of bonuses are available and what sorts of Terms & Conditions a player can expect when trying to play such bonuses. It bears repeating that things are often different for an advantage player and a truly recreational player as many of the Bonus Terms & Conditions are specifically designed to limit, or outright prevent advantage play. If you're just playing slots and staying within the betting limits, you probably have next to nothing to worry about.

Beyond that, you can never go wrong signing up for an online casino through our site. As it says in our advertising policy:

With any casino we promote, if you click through an ad on this site, which leads to opening an account, as evidenced by an affiliate code in the link to the casino, then we will stand behind you. If you ever have a dispute with a casino and are a confirmed "Wizard" player, then we will try to help. We do ask that you try to work out the problem yourself first, and only request assistance from us as a last resort.

Just remember that this only applies if you sign up for a casino by clicking through this site. Most importantly, we can only help you in the event of a dispute if you have played according to the casino's Bonus Terms & Conditions.

Happy Bonus Hunting, and as Wizard says, "May the odds forever be in your favor!"

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