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How Much Are No Deposit Bonuses Really Worth?

An in-depth look at the state of free money promotions in 2021

The no deposit bonus was a vital tool in the online casino arsenal for many years, but this type of offer doesn’t seem to be quite so common these days. Taking a trip back in time to the birth of the online casino, every new site would usually offer some sort of no deposit free chip to encourage new players to register.

Joining new casinos and taking advantage of no deposit bonuses was a lucrative pastime back then, which made it a fantastic time to be an online gambler. Many of the offers being promoted at that time were extremely generous, with little restrictions attached to the free funds. Alas, the market has evolved significantly since then, and the situation today is rather different.

How it all began…

Roughly between the years of 2000 and 2005, the online gaming industry was growing exponentially week after week. New casinos were springing up on a daily basis, and the huge influx of new competition forced both new and existing operators to search for ever more extreme ways to differentiate themselves from each other. A great offer like no deposit free spins was a guarantee of lots of new signups, but the casinos would soon discover that, as the old saying goes – turnover is vanity, profit is sanity.

Many of the clauses now synonymous with no deposit bonuses simply did not exist in those days. You could usually play any game you liked with your free money, and there were no limits on the size of the bets you could make. Wagering requirements were often extremely low or even non-existent, and there were no limits on the amount you could cash out from a no deposit bonus either. Almost sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it!

But all of the aforementioned restrictions soon came along to spoil the party, and they quickly became ubiquitous as one casino after another realised that players were still just as happy to get a bonus, even if it came with a few extra conditions attached. The way a lot of players see it, it just isn’t that important how many restrictions, terms or conditions you attach to a no deposit bonus - it is still “free” money, and who doesn’t like the sound of that?

Enter the Advantage Players

The situation quickly led to a large community of players coming together to share tips and tricks for converting no deposit bonuses into guaranteed profits. Forums such as Beating Bonuses would list every available bonus along with the wagering requirement and run the numbers to see if playing games such as blackjack, roulette or low house edge slots could lead to a guaranteed profit.

Such sites became hugely popular very quickly, and the casinos had no choice but to scramble to find new ways to lower the value of their bonuses to combat what they saw as bonus abuse. Of course, the player community considered it nothing more than advantage play – they weren’t breaking any rules, after all. In the end, the casinos would use those same techniques that had been developed by their adversaries to set the real-world value of their no deposit bonuses to as low a figure as they felt they could possibly get away with.

And with that, the era of the true “free money” no deposit bonus was well and truly over. But the offers didn’t disappear - they were still widely popular with “regular” players, and the casinos still needed new players. Gambling is meant to be fun after all, and lots of people joining a new casino are just happy trying their luck on the casinos dime.

When the Tide Began to Turn

By the time the casinos had worked out how to beat the advantage players at their own game, the size of the wagering requirements attached to their bonuses was getting somewhat out of hand. For many, it was still just about palatable… but the novel-sized lists of terms and conditions were another matter, however.

Let’s not forget, people are notoriously bad at reading long lists of terms and conditions. Sure, the advantage players were reading them and trying to work out how to take advantage of them, but the regular players, the very ones for whom these offers still existed, were not.

This didn’t matter for a large number of such players – more than 90% of these bonuses are lost before wagering requirements have been completed, so this huge percentage is likely pleased and feels grateful to the casino for the free playtime. It was the remaining 10% who became the problem – some of these players would spend ten, fifteen, maybe twenty hours wagering these bonus funds only to have their winnings confiscated due to a rule they hadn’t known about, or perhaps ridiculously small cash-out limit that meant they could only withdraw a fraction of their finishing balance.

Horror stories like this became synonymous with no deposit bonuses, and whilst you could argue that the casinos did nothing wrong – the rules were clearly stated in the terms and conditions, after all – episodes like these created a huge amount of negative publicity that quickly began to outweigh the goodwill obtained from giving away a no deposit bonus in the first place.

What the Casinos Did Next

Soon, the average casino wasn’t offering actual cash to new players anymore. They’d give away some free spins instead, or perhaps some free cash that they would add to your account AFTER you had completed a certain amount of wagering. Some of these offers were truly laughable – ten free spins on Starburst at 0.10 per spin with a 50x wagering requirement on any pennies you happen to win is hardly going to be making a difference to anybody’s evening. But the market was more established now, and the casinos had learned that a hefty deposit-based bonus was just as likely to attract new players as a small no deposit bonus was.

A 100% deposit match with a reasonable wagering requirement is often a much better deal for the player, too. That being said, many of those bonuses come with the same long list of caveats such as restricted games, low contribution percentages for table games, and a ban on making bets higher than a relatively small maximum level. There are still a few nice offers out there if you take the time to look for them, but they are fast becoming the very rare exception.

And anyway, how about if you don’t have any spare money this evening and still fancy a gamble with the possibility of winning some real cash? Can this still be done? Let’s take a look.

The Real-World Value of No Deposit Bonuses

Let’s take a look at three of the top links for casino no deposit bonuses in googles index right now, and decide if they are a good option for you as the player. We’ll leave the casinos nameless, and we don’t really care about the currency other than that these numbers assume you are playing in £/$/€.

10 £/$/€ No Deposit Bonus

Credited immediately after registration, this bonus has a 50x wagering requirement which must be completed within seven days, and any winnings above 50 £/$/€ in your account at the time you finish this wagering will be removed from your account.

Slots have a 100% contribution percentage, whereas live casino gives 30% and table games 10%. These numbers are actually quite good by today's standards if you like playing something other than slots, but still means you need to wager your 10 a massive 500 times if you choose to play only blackjack!

Assuming you play slots with a 5% house edge, you are going to need to be very lucky just to beat the wagering requirement. For those who do get lucky, it’s got to be truly disappointing to have your withdrawable winnings capped at just 5x the amount of the bonus after spending so long completing the wagering.

Mathematically speaking, this bonus is worthless – but people can and do hit big wins, and I can actually say from personal experience that I beat this bonus, finishing with a final balance of over 600. At that time, the max cash out was 100, which I received without issue. I have to admit though, it felt like more of a loss than a win.

88 £/$/€ Free, No Deposit Bonus

No prizes for guessing who offers this deal, and you’d think such a big name could afford to offer a trustworthy bonus. Sadly, all is not as it seems. The no deposit funds are only playable in a sandboxed free play area of the casino which has a very limited number of games, and as you play those games your winnings are added into a separate bonus balance.

Once you reach just 10 £/$/€ of winnings in this other balance, the free play mode will cease and you will be transferred to the main casino where you now have 10 of playable funds with a 50x wagering requirement. Very deceptive!

Contribution percentages are 100% for most slots, 20% for a few select table games, 10% for blackjack, roulette and video poker, and 5% for craps.

Quite frankly I find this bonus offensive – the large headline figure is there to attract players, who don’t realize how little they are getting until they have signed up and started to play. This bonus is not only mathematically worthless, but I can’t see how this can possibly bring any good publicity to the casino either.

50 Free Spins No Deposit Bonus

This is an interesting curveball because it gives you a choice of slots on which you can use your free spins, and some of them have a lower minimum bet than others. Use your spins on the best possible option and they can be worth up to 25 £/$/€, with a wagering requirement of just 35x on any accumulated winnings from the free spins.

It’s always a difficult call with free spins – win a lot and you have a very large wagering requirement. Win too little and you have virtually no chance of converting the spins into real money. If you do win a large amount from the free spins though then this bonus has a chance of being a winner for the player mathematically.

The only thing which lets this deal down is the fact that this particular casino splits slots into two categories, with one only having a 50% contribution percentage. This seems a little bit tight for slots, but alas, it isn’t uncommon in today’s market.

 In Conclusion

Clearly, it isn’t a good time right now in online casino land for players looking for no deposit funds with reasonable wagering requirements and fair terms and conditions. Good deals are few and far between, and checking out a selection of the top matches on google pretty much just shows the okay, the bad, and the truly ugly.

This type of bonus has always been nothing but a marketing tool, but it used to be a marketing tool with benefits for all parties. Some of the deals out there today seem downright predatory, and that’s a real shame because it brings down the reputation of the industry as a whole.

Today, it seems that the top casinos have decided there are better methods to attract new players – methods which aren’t quite as susceptible to bonus abusers and advantage players. If you are willing to look for them, you CAN still find a few free chips that are worth your time playing with, just be sure to read the terms and conditions so you know what you can expect if you do get lucky and beat the wagering requirements. Happy Spinning!

Shawna Dudley

Shawna is an ambitious and free-spirited digital nomad with expertise in creating high-quality and SEO-friendly guides and reviews in the iGaming and travel industry. Follow her on Twitter or Linkedin or send her an email.