Ever since the first online casino launched back in the 1990’s, players have been given free casino money which can be used to play the games. These casino bonuses are handed out for a variety of reasons – including to reward loyalty, as part of a special promotion or as an incentive to try out new games. But the most generous bonuses are the often the ones used to entice in new players – known as ‘welcome bonuses’ (aka ‘sign up bonuses’ or SUBs).
Pretty much every online casino worth its salt has some kind of new player promotion – but the value of the bonuses varies dramatically between casinos (we’ll explain why later in the article). In the table above you’ll find a list of the best casino bonuses currently available to UK players along with what software(s) the casino uses for its games.
All of these offers are for new players only and we’ve also specifically listed the bonus that is for UK players. Non-UK players can still claim bonuses at the casinos in the list, but the value and currency may be different – check the relevant casinos website for more informational.
For those of you who already have an account with a particular gambling website that offers multiple products (such as sports betting, online poker and online bingo) and want to claim the casino bonus, make sure to check what they consider a ‘new player’.
Some casinos will give you the bonus if you’ve not played in the casino before whilst others will only give you one bonus regardless of what product it’s on (eg: if you had previously claimed a bonus in the poker room you might not be able to claim the casino bonus as well). This will be clearly labelled in the terms and conditions of the offer – so make sure you read them before claiming.
Types of Casino Bonus
So what are these bonuses we keep harping on about? Well, there are a few different categories that they can fall into – no deposit (or free play) bonuses, deposit bonuses and post wager bonuses:
- No Deposit / Free Play Bonuses – These are bonuses that are given without you having to deposit any of your own money into the casino and come in a few different forms – free chips, free play and free spins:
- Free chips are just like regular casino cash and can be used to bet with however you wish and what you win is yours to keep (subject to minimum wagering requirements or ‘WR’).
- Free Play offers will load up your account with special credits that can be used to play the games, usually for a set time frame or number of wagers. Once finished your winnings are then transferred to you as a bonus, that normally comes with a WR attached.
- Free Spins let you ‘freeroll’ on the slots for a pre-determined number of spins. The number and value of the spins is usually pre-determined, and they often have to be used on a specific slot (or selection of slots). Any winnings are then yours to keep (again, subject to minimum WR)
- Deposit Bonuses – These are bonuses that are handed out when you make a real money deposit into the casino. The value of the bonus will vary between casinos but will usually be given as a percentage such as 100%. This means that if you deposit £100 and receive a 100% bonus, and extra £100 would be added to your account giving you £200 to play with. Many casinos will offer bonuses for more than 100%, particularly if the bonus can only be used to play slots. It isn’t uncommon to find bonuses of 200% – where you would deposit £100 and receive a £200 bonus, giving you £300 to play with.
- Post-Wager Bonuses – This last type of bonus is one that is becoming increasingly popular with players and casinos alike, although for different reasons. Post wager bonuses can be thought of as a reward – kind of like a very high paying loyalty scheme – which are added to you account as you play, rather than before. They are usually for a set amount which is often connected to the amount of your first deposit, although there are plenty of casinos out there that give everyone the same bonus regardless of how much money is deposited. The main benefit of these bonuses is that you can withdraw your winnings at any point (great if you have a big win early on), and the bonus is added to your account as cash.
Whilst it looks like a no brainer that no deposit bonuses beat deposit bonuses (as they’re essentially free casino money), they are usually low value and just there to let you have a nose around the casino before you deposit – kind of like a ‘free trial’. Deposit bonuses will be much larger and less restrictive than their freebie counterparts.
To further complicate matters, the bonus itself (regardless of how it was redeemed) can fit into a couple of different categories depending on how it is treated with respect to withdrawals. The three main kinds you’ll come across are cashable, sticky and phantom.
- Cashable – A cashable bonus is one that can be withdrawn along with your winnings, once the wagering requirements have been met. So if you deposit £100, receive a £100 bonus and then finish the WR with a balance of £300, the whole balance is yours to keep. Post-wager bonuses are always immediately cashable once they’ve hit your account.
- Sticky – True ‘sticky’ bonuses are less common these days, having been replaced by a derivative of this type known as ‘phantom’ bonuses. With a sticky bonus you can withdraw the winnings that you have generated from the bonus, but not the bonus itself which must remain in your account to be played with. So if you deposited £100 and received a £200 bonus and finish the WR with £500 in your casino account, you could withdraw £300 of it, leaving the ‘sticky’ £200 to play with. This bonus then remains in your account until it is lost, but can never be cashed out.
- Phantom – A phantom bonus is very similar to a sticky bonus except that when you come to withdraw, the bonus is removed from your account. So if you deposited £100 and received a £200 bonus, finish with £500 and then request a withdrawal you would receive a payment for £300, but the £200 bonus would dissappear. These kinds of bonuses are often for much higher percentages that could be possible with a cashable or sticky bonus.
It should be pretty clear that for a like-for-like bonus amount and percent the cashable form is the most desirable, followed by the sticky and then the phantom. But each has it’s own merits – phantom bonuses allow the casino to dish out huge percentages which triple or even quadruple your deposit giving you the ability to bet bigger or longer, incresing your chances of a big win.
Casino Bonus Terms & Conditions
Whenever you get something for free in this world, there’ll normally be some kind of condition attached – and this is especially true for casino bonuses. Especially when you consider that the point of bonuses are to draw in new players and to reward existing players, not to hand out bundles of free cash to anyone and every one.
In the early days of online casinos, bonuses we’re dished out willy nilly and they often had no (or very little) conditions attached to them. In fact, the first bonus I ever claimed myself was instantly withdrawable.
As you can probably imagine, this led to a lot of people doing just that – signing up, getting the bonus and then withdrawing without even playing. And because of this, ‘wagering requirements’ were born.
The wagering requirement, or ‘WR’, of a bonus defines how much play you must give the casino before the bonus can be withdrawn. The WR is usually given as a multiplier of either the bonus or the bonus plus the qualifying deposit – so if you receive a £100 bonus with a 20x WR, that means you need to place £2,000 worth of bets before withdrawing the bonus.
So what happens if you have a big win and want to cash out? Well there are two different ways the casinos handle this – for some casinos your deposit and any winnings are ‘locked’ until you have met the wagering requirements, meaning that you can’t withdraw anything until they’re completed. Other casinos, such as any that uses the Microgaming ‘clear pay’ system, will let you withdraw your winnings and deposit by forfeiting the portion of the bonus for which the wagering requirements have not been met.
You would be forgiven for thinking that all games in the casino count the same towards your wagering requirement – but this is usually not the case. The way a casino makes money is from the mathematical edge they have built into the games – this ensures a long term hyptothetical profit whilst allow some players to win, and others to lose (as is the nature of the beast).
Not all games have the same edge, and so you’ll often find at games with very low house edges – such as blackjack and craps – often do not contribute to the wagering requirement of a bonus. Or, as is becoming more common place, the games will count but with a reduced contribution rate.
For example, if you have a £100 bonus with a 20x wagering requirement and blackjack counts for 50%, this means that you need to bet £4,000 on the blackjack tables before withdrawing: (£100 x 20) / 50% = £4,000.
Some games are also banned completely from being played with the bonus – progressive jackpot games are often excluded as each spins contibutes to a pooled pot, which costs the casino money when you’re playing with a bonus.
You can find out about game exclusions and game contribution rates in the terms and conditions for the bonus – make sure you read them before you claim and start playing.
Another term that is sometimes added to casino bonuses relates the maximum bet you are allowed to place whilst betting with the bonus. Whilst such a condition isn’t too common place at the moment, it’s still widespread enough to warrant a mention in this guide.
Put simply, some casinos will place a maximum bet restriction to stop you putting your whole balance down on one hand of blackjack in order to ‘double up or bust’ as that defeats the idea of the bonus (to get you to try their games). This restriction could be in the form of a fixed amount (such as 32Red’s maximum bet of 6.25 chips in any one hand or spin) or as a percentage of the bonsus or your balance (eg: you can’t bet more than 10% of your bonus in any one hand).
If In Doubt, Just Ask!
Finally, whilst all of this may sound confusing to new players, it’s really not that complicated once you’ve got the hang of it. The most important thing to remember is to read the terms of the offer carefully and make sure that you understand them before claiming – if you have any doubts or need clarification of a terms just ask the casino’s customer support.