We mention wagering requirements frequently here at OnlineBettingSites.com but up until today, we’ve been acting as if everyone is already familiar with the concept. It’s time we change that to better serve our readers out there who are still learning the ins and outs of betting online.
So, today’s post will serve as a reference point. We will explain what wagering requirements are, how they work and what you should know before you claim any deposit bonus. We will be referring back to this post frequently from here on out.
What are wagering requirements?
Wagering requirements (also known as “the rollover”) refer to a stipulation that is attached to the vast majority of deposit bonuses offered by online bookmakers and casino sites. The details vary from case to case, but the general idea is that you must place a certain amount of real money wagers before the bonus money and any winnings earned by risking the bonus money may be withdrawn.
For example, let’s say you sign up for an account at a betting site that offers a 100% bonus for up to £100 extra. You like the sounds of that, but you’re an OBS reader and remember our advice about the importance of reading the terms and conditions. You do that and see that this bonus comes with a 5x rollover attached to the original deposit amount and bonus funds.
Note: the stated wagering requirements for a bonus are not an amount that you need to spend or lose. Wagering requirements are only the amount you need to bet. However much you win or lose does not matter. All that matters is that you placed the wagers in the first place.
You run the numbers in your head and see that if you deposit £100 and receive a £100 bonus, your total rollover would be £1,000 (£200 x 5). What this means is you would need to place a grand total of £1,000 in wagers before you would be able to withdraw the bonus money or anything you win by betting the bonus money.
The process of meeting those wagering bonuses is often referred to as “clearing” the bonus. If you ever see us talking about clearing a bonus, that is what we’re referring to. Once you finish clearing a bonus, everything in your account is free for withdrawal without penalty.
We should also point out that legitimate betting sites will never hold your original deposit hostage. If you change your mind at some point and decide you would rather withdraw rather than continue clearing the bonus, you’re free to do so. The bonus money and any winnings associated with the bonus money will be lost, but you will still be able to claim your original deposit.
If you ever run across a betting site and the terms threaten your original deposit if you fail to complete the bonus wagering requirements, you should move on. That website is not worth your time or risk. We do not recommend such betting sites around here, but it would be best to go ahead and get into the habit of reading the terms and conditions of all bonus offers anyways.
Why do bonuses have wagering requirements?
Wagering requirements serve two purposes for betting sites:
- Ensure bonuses are only given to actual customers
- Help offset some of the expense of offering bonuses
Most importantly, wagering requirements limit bonus payouts to actual customers and not just anyone who signs up for an account. You can imagine how quickly online bookmakers would be overwhelmed if they were to just give out free money and let people withdraw that money immediately without ever placing a single bet.
Enforcing wagering requirements ensures that all bonus recipients place at least some minimum total of bets before moving on to greener pastures. It would be financial suicide to just give away free money to anyone willing to sign up for an account. Wagering requirements give betting sites the assurance that they will be getting some business from every person who receives a bonus.
Secondly, the process of clearing a bonus exposes each customer to the house advantage, which is how online casinos and sportsbooks make their money. Every casino game and nearly every sports bets come with a built-in house advantage. Although any individual gambler may win or lose a significant amount while clearing a bonus, the odds work out for the betting site over the course of giving out bonuses to many thousands of players.
Other Things to Keep in Mind
You should always be on the lookout for additional terms because most betting sites attach certain conditions to how the wagering requirements are met. Generally, betting sites do not want people to clear their bonuses by placing a bunch of low-risk wagers simply for the sake of clearing the bonus and withdrawing.
Sports Betting Restrictions
Sports betting bonus offers usually come with a minimum odds rule which states that only wagers placed at certain odds or higher count towards meeting the wagering requirements.
What this means is you’re free to place all the low-risk wagers you want, but only bets placed at 1/2 or higher count towards your rollover. In this example, bets placed at odds of 1/4, 1/8 or 1/20 would not count while bets placed at 1/2, 1/1 or 4/1 would count.
The purpose of this rule is to prevent people from gaming the system. Without it, people would be able to claim signup bonuses with no intention of actually becoming a customer. They could simply place a bunch of extremely low risk wagers on massive favourites to clear the bonus and then leave. This rule is sensible and fair, but only to a certain extent.
While it’s understandable that bookmakers want to protect themselves, we also don’t want to do business with books that abuse such rules in order to deceptively make their bonuses more difficult to clear. There is a line, and generally that line stops at even money for betting odds. If a bookmaker is ruling out wagers placed at odds greater than even money, there are better alternatives out there and you should move on.
Online casinos also have similar rules. In fact, you need to be extra careful when dealing with casino bonuses because their wagering restrictions can be quite extensive. Casino bonuses typically prevent all low risk or even-money games from counting towards the wagering requirements of their bonuses.
The vast majority of casino bonuses that I have explored to date restricted blackjack, baccarat and other low-edge games from counting towards the rollover. In some cases, they don’t restrict these games outright but instead only count bets placed in those games at a reduced rate – sometimes as low as 10%. In other words, betting £10 at blackjack would only count £1 towards meeting your rollover.
It’s gotten to the point today where I just automatically assume every casino bonus I see is only for slots players. I’ll then read the terms and conditions to see if any other games can be played and hope for a nice surprise. Sometimes, I am nicely surprised to find bonuses that work with blackjack and other low house edge games, but it doesn’t happen often.
Cashable vs Non-Cashable
One other thing to check for before you claim any bonus is whether or not the bonus money itself may be withdrawn after you have met he wagering requirements. In many cases, it is only revealed in the fine print that the bonus money itself cannot be withdrawn. You may withdraw your own deposit and anything you won by wagering the bonus, but the actual bonus may only be used to place bets. This is called a non-cashable bonus.
Cashable bonuses are the opposite: the bonus itself may be withdrawn along with your original deposit and any winnings. Cashable bonuses tend to be smaller than non-cashable bonuses but are nonetheless more popular among players for obvious reasons.
All major betting sites help you keep track of how far along you are in meeting the wagering requirements for any particular bonus. It will be different at every site, but usually you can see any pending bonuses and a progress meter somewhere inside the cashier’s area of your account. Just log in to your account, visit the page that shows your account balance and you should see your progress somewhere inside that area.
Are wagering requirements a rip-off?
Not necessarily, but they can be abused to no end and they definitely lower the actual value of deposit bonuses. Once you learn about wagering requirements, you understand how betting sites can afford to give out so much “free” money.
On one hand, it is perfectly reasonable for betting sites to protect themselves. Without wagering requirements, betting sites would have people from all over the world signing up in droves to claim bonuses with zero intention of ever playing.
On the other hand, wagering requirements definitely do lower the value of many bonuses to the point where they aren’t even worth claiming. Yes, some betting bonuses are structured so poorly that you are actually better off passing on all that “free” money and simply playing with your own deposit.
One handy trick you can use to determine if a deposit bonus is worth your while is to run a simple expected value calculation. This works the best for casino bonuses since the house advantage for casino games is easy to determine and remains static. It’s not quite as simple for sports betting because your own skill will (or lack thereof) drastically impacts the house advantage.
Calculating the Expected Value of a Deposit Bonus
If you know the exact house advantage of any bets you plan to place while clearing a bonus, you can easily determine whether or not the bonus is worth your time. All you need to do is multiply the house advantage by the total sum of bets you will be asked to place and that will give you your expected theoretical losses.
Expected loss = house advantage x total wagering requirements
Now, let’s say you’re looking at a 100% casino bonus with a 10x rollover on the original deposit + bonus amount. You also plan to deposit £100 which means you will have a total rollover of £2,000. Let’s also say you plan to meet the wagering requirements by playing on the slot game Jungle Spirit.
If you run a quick search online, you will quickly find that Jungle Spirit has a house advantage of 3.53%. We now have all the information we need to determine if this fictional bonus is worthwhile. Let’s look at that equation again:
Expected loss = 0.0353 x £2,000
Expected loss = £70.60
This means that on average, you will lose £70.60 after placing a total of £2,000 worth of wagers through Jungle Spirit. That’s less than your bonus amount, so the bonus is a good deal. If you subtract your expected loss from the bonus, you see that you will come out ahead by £29.40 on average with this bonus, and these wagering requirements on this particular game.
Just keep in mind that these numbers are just averages over the long term. The greater the volatility of any game, the more likely you are to finish way ahead or way behind after just one instance. But mathematically, this fictional bonus is a good deal.
This concept can theoretically be used to find the expected value of sports betting bonuses, but precision is difficult to achieve. While we know that the house has an advantage due to the vigorish built into the betting lines, no one ever knows the true odds of any particular outcome in sports betting because there are so many unknown variables. Plus, your own skill ultimately affects your expected return.
Thus, it is significantly more difficult to calculate the expected value of a sports betting bonus over the course of clearing that bonus. Compare this to a game like craps where we know with an extremely high degree of certainty how often the dice land on each outcome.
Fortunately, most sports betting bonuses come with low wagering requirements because the skills of the average spots bettor are little better than random guesses. The only thing betting sites want to avoid is letting people place safe, low-paying bets to clear bonuses with minimal risk. The best thing you can do while meeting the wagering requirements of a sports betting bonus is to place bets at the lowest odds allowed.
Wes Burns has more than a decade’s worth of experience as a writer, researcher, and analyst in the legal online betting industry and is co-founder of OnlineBettingSites.com. Wes approaches his work from the viewpoint of players.