Do you know what one of the biggest differences is between online and live poker rooms, casinos and sportsbooks?
When you walk into a casino you’re almost never offered anything. We say almost because some casinos have floor people – aka vultures – circling the casino trying to get you to join their VIP program. Other than that, though? Nothing.
But online there are all kinds of offers being made. The most common – and the one you’ll encounter first – is the sign up bonus. We’ve never walked into a poker room or casino and been offered a $1,000 to make a deposit.
But it happens all the time online.
Do you know what they are? Do you know how they work? Do you want to?
Then let’s jump into it.
A sign up bonus – also called a new player or deposit bonus – is an offer reserved for new customers. But not just any customer – a real money customer. There is a difference online since you can play for both real and play money.
These offers are different from other bonus offers – like reload bonuses – in that they’re only offered once (to new customers).
They’re usually bigger, too. It varies, but $500 to $1,000 is pretty common for match bonuses. Match bonuses are the most common sign up offer. The casino offers to match a percentage of your deposit up to so many dollars.
For example, a 100% match bonus up to $600 will mean that the poker room will give you $1 for every $1 you deposit, up to $600. If you deposit $600, you’ll double your bankroll.
Once you complete the poker room’s terms, anyway.
Poker rooms don’t just give everyone free money. If they did that they’d be out of business. So, they make you earn it.
You earn bonuses by playing real money games. Every site is different. You might earn your bonus based on the number of hands you play or the amount of rake you pay. It’s usually the latter.
Most rooms will release your bonus to you in increments. This might be $10 or $20. Other rooms will release it as a percentage of the overall bonus you’re trying to earn.
This is cool because it feels like you’re working towards something, whereas playing to release all of a $500 or $1,000 bonus might take too long for some people to see it through.
You’ll keep going until you’ve earned the entire bonus, or until the offer expires. That’s right – many offers will have an expiration date. It’s usually anywhere from 1-6 months. If you fail to earn the rest of your bonus it’ll expire.
And if you try to withdraw your money before you clear the wager requirements, they’ll forfeit your bonus money, and usually any money you won with it.
So, you want to make sure you know and understand the terms, and then follow them to the letter before you try to cash anything out.
That’s the sign up bonus in a nutshell. Any questions?
Here are some questions we get about bonuses (and our answers).
How can you tell a bonus is worth getting?
If you’re a recreational player it’ll be harder because there are lots of unknown variables to you. But most bonuses are worth getting if you can clear them AND if doing so won’t be an opportunity cost i.e. having to pass on softer games to earn the bonus (which is less than you’d make playing).
To know if a sign up bonus is worth more than a bonus elsewhere, you’ll have to do some math. You’ll need to break down how much you’ll pay in rake for the games you’ll play, how much of your bonus the rake will earn you, and then compare that to other rooms.
You can take that a step further and figure out how many hands or games you’ll play per day so you can see how long it’ll take you.
Can you pass on a sign up bonus?
If the offer is given to you automatically, yes, you can usually contact support and ask that you don’t get the bonus. This is especially handy if you know you’ll want to be able to cash out right away.
What are Scam Sign Up Bonuses?
There isn’t one type of scam.
But a shoddy room will offer a sign up bonus to get people to make a deposit. Then a number of things may happen:
And so on.
This isn’t nearly as common in online poker as it is online casinos or sportsbooks. So, we wouldn’t worry too much. Especially if you join one of the rooms we recommend.
What is bonus hunting?
This is a term that’s not used nearly as much. But the idea is that you go from one room to the next, making deposits and clearing sign up bonuses. That’s it.
Back in the day this was more viable because rooms were more liberal with their offers, and the games were way softer. There was more traffic, at more poker sites, too.
That’s just not the case today. There’s more or less a monopoly on traffic. And rooms don’t need to give so many offers away because the major players are already established. More than that, it just makes sense to plant your flag at one or two sites and become a long term customer. There are plenty of rewards/incentives in doing that – like loyalty schemes – which far outweigh one, lonely sign up bonus.
Are sign up bonuses that big a deal?
They can be a variance buster for pros, but otherwise not a big deal since they don’t move around a lot. VIP programs are a bigger deal for them. But, for beginners, a sign up bonus can be a nice addition to their bankroll.
That said, a bonus will never make you a winner / winning poker player. It’ll only extend your playing time if you’re a losing player.
Is there a way to clear bonuses faster?
Well, you can do one of a couple things:
1) Play more tables. The more tables you play, the more hands/tourneys you pay fees on. The more fees you pay, the faster you’ll clear your offer. But I would never do this at the sake of your normal profit (unless the bonus makes you more money).
2) Play higher stakes. This is less recommended because there’s usually a cap on how much rake is taken (thus how much you can earn per hand). Besides, if you’re not ready to play the higher stakes you can lose more than you stand to gain from your bonus.
I go with #1 first, then #2. If you can do both you’re golden.
Can you withdraw the bonus money? Or just the winnings? Or does it depend?
Yeah, it’s unlike casino bonus money in that you have to earn it first before they give it to you. You can use it to play, withdraw, buy stuff, whatever you want.
Yeah, we’d never choose a poker site based on their bonus.
We’d rather pass on a bonus in order to play at a good site with traffic and plenty of games. Besides, you can always get a piece of the VIP program (if they offer it).
Too many people chase the big dollars, only to find out the offer was too good to be true. They end up at a crappy site with no games and/or a shoddy site that rips them off.
Start with the games, traffic, banking, etc. (the important stuff) first. Then worry about the bonus. If you can do that you’ll be just fine.