Gambling bonuses and promotional offers almost always come with wagering requirements attached.

If you’ve ever visited an online gambling site, then chances are you’ve noticed a huge banner ad splashed across the homepages, promising free money or free bets to players who make their first deposit. It really doesn’t matter if it’s an online casino, sportsbook, or poker site: Just about all of them provide some sort of enticing offer.

In many cases, these promotions take the form of what is called a deposit bonus match. Fundamentally, these are simple to understand: You deposit money, and the online gambling site matches your deposit up to certain amount. Easy money, right? Not so much, as nowadays, deposit matches are inundated with fine print.

So how do you tell the difference between a lucrative and a poor bonus offer? The answer typically lies in what is called a wagering or turnover requirement. These have a tremendous impact on bonus value, and players are well advised to understand how they work before taking the plunge.

What is a Wagering Requirement?

It’s critical to understand that online sportsbooks and online casino sites are not in the business of giving away free money. Otherwise, everyone would just register as many accounts as they could, claim the deposit match, and immediately withdraw for a profit. Instead, they offer bonuses, which is money that can be used on the site but cannot be withdrawn until certain conditions are met.

Bonus offers are one of the most common acquisition tools used by online gambling sites, with roots extending back two decades. By giving a little, the site hopes to gain a loyal customer that will remain in their database for years to come.

Typically, in order to withdraw bonus funds, you’ll have to give the site action, either by betting on sports, or placing real-money wagers on slots, table games, or video poker. How much action you’ll need to give is dictated by the wagering requirement.

In short, a wagering requirement is the number of times players will have to turnover (or wager) their bonus before it converts to real, withdrawable cash. For instance, if the wagering requirement is 20 times or 20x the bonus amount, and the bonus is $100, players will have to place bets equal to 20 x $100 = $2,000, before the bonus is allocated to their cash wallets.

As you may have surmised, the lower the wagering requirement, the better the offer. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to merely glance at the wagering requirement number, as it’s not often a true indication of how much you have to bet.

Three Warning Signs to Look Out For

We have identified three key areas that players will want to examine beyond the wagering requirement number. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be much better equipped to determine if a bonus offer is a stud or a dud.

Deposit, or Deposit Plus Bonus?

One of the sneakiest tactics online gambling sites use is claiming that the wagering requirement is a certain amount, when it’s really double that amount.

Allow us to explain. Let’s say a site offers players a 100% match deposit bonus up to $500. Sounding good at fist review, the customer deposits $500 and receives a $500 (100%) math bonus in their player account.

The astute customer then checks the terms and conditions page, and finds that the wagering requirement is 20x and proceeds to wager $10,000 ($500 x 20) on their favorite slot, breaks about even, and is ready to cash out. Only problem is they can’t, as the bonus funds are still locked up.

What’s the issue? Well, turns out that customer didn’t read the fine print closely enough.

See, the wagering requirement was 20x the deposit plus the bonus amount. The deposit amount was $500, as was the bonus amount, for a total of $1,000. $1,000 x 20 = $20,000, which is really 40 times the bonus amount!

In this instance, 40x is the true turnover requirement, which is not as good of an offer as the 20x wagering requirement thought they were receiving.  Before cashing out, they have to bet more before claiming the bonus money.

Beware Sub-100% Deposit Matches

If you thought “deposit plus bonus” language was deceptive for 100% deposit matches, just wait until you see how bad they are for lower percentage matches.

While 100% matches are the norm for new player bonus, reload or returning player offers are usually not as good, typically offering somewhere between a 10% and 50% match on deposits.

Let’s look at an example, a player receives a reload bonus offer that promises a 25% match up to $1,000 on their next deposit. In this case, the player deposits the maximum and receives $1,000 in cash (their deposit) and a $250 bonus, for a total of $1,250 into their player account. The wagering requirement on this bonus is a “mere” 10x the deposit plus bonus amount.

Sounds great right? Except it’s not. The bonus is just $250, and the wagering requirement is $1,250 (deposit plus bonus) times 10, for a total of $12,500. That works out to a true wagering requirement of 50x, which is not a valuable offer.

Not All Casino Games Are Bonus Friendly

A common tactic of online gambling sites is to weigh their games differently for bonus considerations, the logic being that games with better odds should count less toward clearing a bonus than games with poorer returns like slots.

For an online casino bonus, offers wagering requirements terms and conditions might read something like this:

  • Slots count 100% toward the wagering requirement
  • Roulette counts 50% toward the wagering requirement
  • All other games (video poker, blackjack, other table games) count 10% toward the wagering requirement

This is in no way an exaggeration: a contribution rate of just 10% is very common for high return games like blackjack.

Sometimes video poker, blackjack, and even sports betting, won’t count toward the wagering requirement at all.

Imagine playing on a site for weeks on end, only to realize you didn’t make a dent in your wagering requirements. It happens.

To determine the impact of contribution rates on a bonus play through, divide the wagering requirement by the contribution rate. That’ll give you your true wagering requirement for the game you want to play.

For instance, if I wanted to play Jacks or Better, which contributes 10%, and the wagering requirement is 20x, I would divide 20 / .1 and get 200x. That’s how many times I’ll have to rollover my bonus if I want it to float over to my cash wallet.

The Bottom Line

It’s not nearly enough to take a cursory glance at the wagering requirement language, as the number doesn’t tell the full story.

Two offers could both have 20x wagering requirements. On one there are no contribution rates or game restrictions, and the wagering requirement is just on the bonus, so the true wagering requirement is still 20x.

On the other, many games only contribute 10%, the deposit match is only 25% and the wagering requirements are 20x the deposit plus bonus, for a true wagering requirement of 1,000x.

The differences aren’t usually that stark, but they can be. It pays to do a little homework.

Other Considerations

Beyond gambling bonus wagering requirements, there are two other considerations we like to factor into our decision as to whether to recommend a deposit match offer.

The first is time. All betting bonuses come affixed with an expiration date, and for some players, it’s just going to be unreasonable for them to bet 20x or 30x their bonus amount in the allotted timeframe. A typical timeframe is roughly 30 days, which should be more than enough for casual players, but we’ve seen some betting sites go as low as a few days.

If time expires, the bonus is forfeited, even if you’ve partially fulfilled the wagering requirements. That wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for our other consideration:

Wagers typically count against your cash balance first, and then your bonus balance.

For instance, if you have $500 in cash, and a $500 bonus, and place a $50 bet on a team to cover, if that wager loses your cash balance will take the hit, down to $450, and your bonus balance will remain $500. Now, if you either cancel your bonus or it expires, you’re stuck 50 bucks.

Therefore, we strongly recommend players only claim betting bonuses that they can confidently clear in time.

What’s a Good Wagering Requirement?

Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge of how to calculate an offer’s true wagering requirement, what exactly constitutes a “good” deal?

It really depends on the kinds of game you’re looking to play. Higher wagering requirements are more palatable if your game of choice is blackjack or pass line craps because the house edge is so low.

On the flipside, for online slots bonuses, you’ll typically want a lower wagering requirement, due to the lower returns.

The way we determine a favorable wagering requirement, is by first calculating the cashback rate of a bonus, and this is done via the following simple formula:

Cashback % = 100 / true wagering requirement

So, if a wagering requirement is 20x then our cashback rate is 5%, which we derive by dividing 100 by 20.

Next, add the cashback rate to a game’s return, and you’ll get its true return. For example, if a slot returns 94.6% and we receive 5% cashback, the true return is 99.6%, meaning we’re almost playing a break even game – not great, but also not terrible for online slots games. 

Legal US gambling sites are usually transparent about game returns. They can usually be found in a game’s info tab.

For a 20x wagering requirement, every game that returns 95% or more will theoretically provide players with an edge for the duration of the bonus, and that’s a sweet deal.

If the cashback % plus a game’s return to player (RTP) is over 100%, the player has the advantage.

Just remember that not all games contribute equally.

If video poker only contributes 20%, then the true wagering requirement is 100x, not 20x, and thus the cashback % is (100/100) or 1%. That’s still a pretty good deal for certain video poker pay-tables, but clearing the video poker bonus is going to be a grind.

It’s helpful to know that the house edge on point spreads and totals for major sports markets is 4.55%, pending -110 lines on both sides. It dips to just 2.38% for -105 lines.

With all this in mind, here are our recommended maximum wagering requirements for each game type:

  • Slots: 20x (25x – 30x is acceptable if you’re playing the very best online casino slots, or enabling Big Bet features)
  • Roulette: 30x for single zero, don’t bother with double zero
  • Blackjack: 100x assuming perfect, or near-perfect basic strategy
  • Other Table Games: 30x is typically safe for most games, unless you’re playing side bets
  • Video Poker: 100x for good paytables, and near-perfect play
  • Sports Betting: 20x on straights at -110, no more than 10-15x on parlays and props

Unfortunately it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find online casino and sportsbook offers and promotions that meet those standards, but at least some make the grade.

What States Offer Deposit Match Bonuses?

Deposit match bonuses are mostly found on online casino sites. At present there are just a few sites that have a legal online casino industry. They are:

  • New Jersey: There are literally dozens of online casinos up and running, and at least some of them offer solid deposit match bonuses.
  • Pennsylvania: The Keystone State has a growing number of online casinos, and with this increase, comes more bonus opportunities.
  • Delaware: There are just three online casinos live in Delaware.
  • Michigan: Coming soon.
  • West Virginia: Coming soon.

Other states should follow their lead, in time.

It’s far less common to see online sportsbooks offer deposit matches, at least not to new players. Instead they tend to opt for free bet, or risk-free bet offers.

Still, it’s important for sports bettors to understand wagering requirement language, because free bets at US sportsbooks are also bonuses, and may come with their own wagering requirements.

Also, in states with both online casinos and sportsbooks, it isn’t unheard of for operators to roll out multi-vertical deposit matches, which enables players to clear their bonus in either the sportsbook or casino, or a combination of both.

Some US betting sites, like Bet Rivers, offer sportsbook only deposit match bonuses, and the great thing about the deposit bonus at BetRivers sportsbook is that the wagering requirement is only 1x. That’s about as close to free money as you’ll find anywhere.

Check out the following markets, all of which have legalized remote online sports betting, for their new and returning player offers:

  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • Indiana
  • West Virginia
  • New Hampshire
  • Colorado

You may also be treated to deposit match offers in Iowa and Nevada, but you’ll have to register a mobile account at a retail location in person before wagering online. Washington D.C., Rhode Island, and Oregon offer lottery sponsored online sports betting, but the VIG is too high for us to recommend them at this juncture.

Operators in monopoly markets are typically reluctant to offer sports betting promotions.

Summary: Tips for New Players

To sum up, these are the most essential pieces of advice we can offer to new players who are still a bit confused by deposit matches and wagering requirements of online gambling bonuses:

  • Always read the terms and conditions before claiming a deposit match bonus.
  • Don’t just go by the wagering requirement number alone, it needs to be converted into a “true wagering requirement.”
  • Be on the lookout for language that reads “deposit plus bonus.” This suggests the true wagering requirement is higher, sometimes much higher, than what’s specified.  Do the math.
  • Know your contribution rate: Video poker, blackjack, and even sports might contribute less to your wagering requirement than slots. Sometimes, they may be excluded entirely. 
  • If you aren’t sure you’ll have enough time to meet a bonus’s wagering requirements, either make a smaller deposit, or don’t claim the bonus.
  • Don’t ever cancel a bonus, unless you’re up so much money that you don’t mind forfeiting it.
  • Be leery of bonuses and promotions with high monetary caps, like $2,000 or more. Often these bonuses are loaded with unfavorable bonus terms and conditions.
  • Aim for signup bonuses that allow you to play with an edge. The casino or sportsbook is going to have the jump on you nearly all the time – might as well take advantage of the few times they don’t.