Free Bets and Bonuses
The UK provides one of the safest and most regulated gambling markets in the world, but as a consequence of this, and the fact that Brits by head bet by more than pretty much anyone else, means the industry is ultra-competitive.
High competition mixed with big marketing budgets means that betting companies almost fall over each other to give you free bets or bonuses as an incentive to join. These deals are not a scam, they are genuine and simply a product of choice and demand in remote gambling today.
It therefore makes good sense if you want to join a new betting site that you might want to take up an introductory offer. These companies are even giving you this promotional cash so that you can try them out with reduced cost and they even hope you will win because of course they want you to get a good feeling about them and stay in the longer term.
The fact the UK has stringent advertising and gambling laws also means that brands need to be very open and fair with their offer terms. That’s why you can see all significant terms associated with a welcome offer now before you claim, to ensure it is right for you.
Still, you shouldn’t necessarily just claim an offer because it is there or it is bigger than another, given such choice you might as well choose the right sign up promotion from the right site for the perfect combination. You wouldn’t after-all just buy a drink that you didn’t like just because it had a better offer than a drink you did like, the same should be true when choosing your online bookmakers.
On this page we look at some of the major types of welcome deals and why sites offer them, hopefully to allow you to pick the right incentive for the way you want to bet. For more general information about betting online see our FAQ.
How Do Betting Companies Afford Them?
Online betting sites have relatively low overheads, compared to high street shops at least, and this means they have lots of cash to spend on wooing and then keeping customers; also without a welcome incentive most people simply wouldn’t sign up, and so it is a necessity for gambling sites these days to give you some promotional cash to bet with.
Remote gambling is a very profitable industry too, the old adage you never meet a poor bookie rings true now more than ever, as these companies don’t have to rent premises or pay shop staff. The fact that many newer sites now run on third-party platforms too means they have reduced costs and can afford to plough more into marketing budgets.
Of course you also need to bear in mind that most of what is given out for free is promotional cash not real cash, kind of like having a voucher. The idea from the bookies point of view is that by using promo cash to bet with people get a better appreciation for the product and by winning with initial bets it gives people a lucky feeling about the site.
People do win with free bets and bonuses, but not everyone, and therefore when a site offers say “Bet £10 Get £30 in Free Bets” then in reality they are giving less when you consider many punters will not win to counteract those that lose.
Different Types of Welcome Bonuses
Free bets are generally single use tokens that must be used in one go, i.e. on single line bet, with any resulting winnings in cash but the free token stake itself not returned. To claim them you generally need to bet a given amount at minimum odds within a period of time, sometimes free bets are awarded on first deposit but that is rarer.
This is the most common and easiest type of offer to understand. Of course the money isn’t completely free, if it were you could withdraw it without betting, but it does give you the chance to win real money with just one bet.
One of the negatives of a free bet is you can’t split it up into lots of smaller bet, therefore less useful if you want to bet on several things, or a package bet like a lucky 15. You can however with many of these offers use the free token on each-way wagers.
Most free bets are limited in the £10’s range, although the percentage free can sometimes be staggering, with offers such as Bet £5 get £30 with some operators matching your stake 600% with promo cash. Free tokens tend to have limited expiry time, usually not more than 7 days.
Risk Free Bets
Often termed ‘first bet insurance’ or ‘money back if your first bet loses’ these days as most of these offers are not actually ‘risk free’. Rather they are giving you your stake back as a free bet if the first bet you place loses. This is certainly better than nothing, but not as good as a free bet that doesn’t require your 1st bet to lose.
Although these money back bets are less attractive they do tend to offer higher amounts, and you can find these deals providing £50, even £100 or more back if your first wager loses, and consequently can be more useful to people who deposit and bet higher amounts.
Insurance offers like this are also not usually fixed stake, so you can choose your won bet amount up to the maximum level an get a free bet equal to that amount if it loses.
Bonuses generally match your deposit or first bet with a percentage in bonus funds, 100% being the most common, occasionally 50% and some providing 200% or more. Sometimes you need to bet a qualifying amount at above minimum odds within a time period to activate the bonus, other times the bonus is awarded straight away.
Once activated the bonus will have a wagering requirement, this may be listed as the bonus amount or bonus and deposit amount combined. This is the amount of multiples of your bonus that you will need to stake in order to turn that cash, and subsequent winnings into real withdrawable funds. This will also have minimum odds and perhaps other restrictions attached. Usually rollover amounts range from 3x to 20x for sports
The benefit of a bonus is it gives you more freedom on how you bet with it, allowing you to split it up into many wagers. This has the added benefit that it lets you try more market on the site giving you a greater appreciation as to whether you like the brand or not (which is why some sites prefer to offer them).
You also tend to get higher amounts with bonuses and so they are more suited to higher stakes depositors, and if you win in the end you can keep the promotional cash itself, which you can’t do with a free bet. Bonuses also last longer, usually 30 days in which to wager it.
On the negative side however it takes longer to reach a rollover with a bonus compared to a free bet, the percentage free you receive is generally lower, and you are also more likely to lose – but then if you do win in the end the levels tend to be higher than a free bet.
This type of welcome promotion is far more common for casino however than sports as in gaming you tend to place many more bets. Still some people prefer these offers for sports as they can place more bets with it.
Bonuses are less popular than they once were and this is a combination of people not wanting to place many bets to win free cash and partly because operators are now taxed differently on promotional cash winnings than they were in they past, encouraging many to drop big bonus offers.
Enhanced Odds & Event Specials
Enhanced odds new customer offers or event specials can actually, in many cases, give a punter more in free funds than the standard conventional welcome offer. There are however a couple of drawbacks.
If you take an enhanced odds deal then your bet will still need to win in order to get the extra winnings (usually in the form of a free bet) and you are also of course restricted to betting on that specific outcome.
Offers that don’t require you to win your first bet, such as ‘bet £5 on Cheltenham get a £5 free bet for all 7 races’, also tend to give more free than the usual sign up deal, but consequently are more restricted in how you use them.
Therefore the best time to take a new customer special is when it is for an event that you were going to bet on anyway.
No Deposit Bonuses
These are now very rare indeed for sports, although you can find one or two from time to time. They tend to be fairly low amounts, £5 or £10, and will usually have a higher rollover than conventional deposit bonus, usually 10x or more.
Most NDB will have maximum winnings restrictions, generally in the region of 10x the bonus amount.
The idea behind a no deposit offer is not really to give you free money, rather it is more designed for you to try a site out before risking your own funds. Some people do win with these, but in general see this as test cash.
The good thing is when you do find these deals there is often an additional deposit bonus that can also be claimed afterwards.
These used to be almost unheard of but since the changes on the way free bet taxes work some sites have started to give welcome incentives that pay in cash. These are gold dust when you can find them and come in two major varieties:
- True Risk Free Bets – giving you money back in cash if your first bet loses, generally low stakes, probably £10, but they do give you a completely free shot at a wager.
- Enhanced Odds With Cash Winnings – some event specific new customer enhanced odds offers have been known to pay in cash. An example might include something like 20/1 for a touchdown to be score in the superbowl, you bet £1 and if the bet wins get £20 in cash.
How To Compare Offers
All offers will require you to do something to get the promo cash. It is important to read the terms to make sure the deal suits the way you want to bet, the offer should supplement your enjoyment not pressure you into doing things you don’t want to.
It is important to look at both the terms associated with qualifying for the offer and the terms associated with the promo cash once awarded.
Here are some important terms to look at:
- If this is a deposit offer you will need to deposit a minimum amount to claim it, and this isn’t always just the lowest deposit amount they take.
- Do you need to enter a bonus code on registration or deposit to claim the offer? Many sites have multiple welcome deals and use codes so they know what you want to get.
- Consider the qualifying time you have to claim, i.e. how long you have between registering to deposit or between depositing to betting. This can range from hours to months, sometimes there is no limit.
- What are the minimum odds of any qualifying bet you might need to place. Also check if there are maximum odds restrictions (rare).
- Check to see what markets are applicable, for example, with some offers if you bet on horse racing with your first bet you don’t qualify.
- Look at restricted bet types that mean you won’t qualify or bet types you can’t use the freebie on. Some offers require your initial bet to be a certain type, such as an accumulator, and if so consider the total minimum odds of the whole multiple and any minimum for each leg.
- Are there any payment method restrictions? Many offers are not available with certain methods, often eWallets like Skrill, PayPal, Neteller or vouchers like Paysafecard; as these are seen by operators as easier to use to duplicate accounts and abuse offers.
Promotional Cash Restrictions
- Free funds are sometimes awarded when you make a first deposit or bet but often need to be activated, in the case of a deposit bonus, or for your qualifying bet to settle, in the case of a free bet.
- If you cash out you will generally forfeit any promo cash
- Look to see how long it will take to award your free bet after qualifying and then how long you have to use it. This can range from anywhere from a few hours to unlimited, on average 7 days is the most common.
- Maximum winnings limits are common for bonuses, and sometimes free bets, and this may affect what you wager on so it is worth knowing about in advance.
- What are the minimum and/or maximum odds at which the promo cash must be used (if any).
- Check to see if you promo cash is restricted to any specific sports or markets (e.g. cannot be used on racing).
- Some bet types will be restricted, such as tote markets, system bets, full-cover bets (if using a free bet).
- If using a bonus the wagering requirement (also called rollover, play-through or turnover) is one of the most important terms, this tells you how many times over you need to bet your funds to convert it.
Other Important Considerations
Not all offers apply everywhere in the same way due to different licensing and regulations. It is very common to have a different offer for Irish vs British customers for example, and the terms can often be slightly different so make sure you read how it applies specifically to your territory. The significant terms that we list apply to the UK.
Even within the UK there can occasionally be different rules for Northern Irish customers vs those from the mainline UK, so if you are betting in NI be sure to check the exact terms in relation to you.
If you are a UK resident but are outside of the country and want to claim an offer then you will not be able to. To open a UK betting account you must actually be in the UK, even if you are a citizen if you are in another country then you fall under their gambling laws.
Many people use VPN’s to access betting sites when in restricted territories, while this is possible it is not allowed and if your bookie catches you they will likely suspend your account and any bets you placed using the VPN.
It is the law in Britain now for all gambling sites to verify who customers are. You must be over 18 and have a residential address in order to open an account.
In the past you used to be able to deposit and bet but you just couldn’t withdraw until the operator verified our age, this had to be within 72 hours.
In 2019 this rule changed so that now companies must verify the age of whoever signs up before they can deposit and gamble. The reasoning behind this is to try to unequivocally stop under 18’s from being able to gamble online.
Some sites can verify your age and address from your bank card, known as a soft credit check, and in this instance you may not even be aware of the verification. In many cases though you will need to send in some form of ID for age (passport or driving license) and address verification (driving license if not used for ID, utility bill, etc).
This is frankly unavoidable, if you want to gamble online you must share these details. Betting companies have high levels of security and are liable if data is breached and so your information is about as secure as it could be.
The only way to get around this is to gamble with an unlicensed site, but then you are taking a huge risk, especially if as you will be sharing payment details with them in any case that could be used maliciously.
It really is critical that you only bet with sites that have a UK license. All the sites we list will have one.
Licensing is primarily there to protect the vulnerable as well as customers form unscrupulous operators and to protect operators from criminals.
The reason the UK has a free and open gambling market is precisely because we have independent bodies like the Gambling Commission to regulate what bookmakers and casinos do and the Advertising Standards Authority and CAP guidelines to ensure they advertise in an open and honest way.
Licensing details are shown at the bottom of all sites that have one (see example below). You can also search any site with the gambling commission to check the status of a license.
The GC levies huge fines on companies that fail in their responsibilities to customers, this has helped produce the safest gambling market in the world.
It is a luxury in the UK to have such a system in place, however it is not the responsibility of the commission to check every website out there and so if you choose to bet with an unlicensed agent and anything bad happens then there is almost no chance you will get any legal recourse.
UK Advertising and Compliance Regulations
There is a whole host of advertising regulations in place in the United Kingdom, most of which are designed to protect minors. This is the precise reason why you need to have detailed terms, opt-in’s, verification, etc., to ensure those that shouldn’t bet are protected.
The guidelines are extensive but here are some of the major point of the CAP (Committees of Advertising Practice) guidelines on gambling advertising:
- No gambling ads to be targeted at under 18’s.
- Prohibition on images and content that appeal to children on openly accessed sites
- No one under the age of 18 or who looks under the age of 25 (especially sports people and celebrities) to be use in adverts, or anyone who is a significant influence of children.
- No ads on sites where over 25% of the audience is likely to be under 18.
- Socially responsible advertising only, with appropriate messages, warnings (e.g T&Cs apply, 18+) and reference to www.begambleaware.org.
- Not use of language that may suggest gambling will lead you to win, make you happier or more attractive. Not to use urgency in relation to gambling, e.g. ‘bet now’ or similar.
There are also many voluntary codes that some of the bigger betting companies are starting to adhere to, such as whistle to whistle advertising bans for sports other than horse racing.
There will always be a conflict in regulation as bookies and casinos are capitalist companies looking to make money. They do however realise that to keep an open and free market they must take on more responsibility, and this package has made for one of the best betting industries in the world – although there is always more room for improvement.