There are many websites that offer sports betting. As it is a highly competitive, most offer special incentives in hopes of attracting and retaining players. For those good at working promotions and bonuses a lot of extra money is available. While this might seem like an intuitive topic, it is not exactly so. There are several points and intricacies that range from important to helpful to understand. These are covered in this article.
Better the Site, Lower the Bonus
Understand there are a high number of rogue sites targeting players located in the United States. This is so much of a concern that if you live elsewhere you might want to avoid American friendly sites period. This is because, while in most US states it is legal to use sports betting sites as a player, it is highly illegal to operate a sports betting site. In short, the gambling sites, but not the players using those sites, are breaking the law. The penalties are harsh and can involve many years of jail time and even multi-million dollar fines. As a result, most reputable online bookies left the US market years ago.
There are still however a handful of reputable US betting sites (View our sportsbook ratings system). These sites operate mostly from Costa Rica, Antigua and Panama which are all countries where both gambling is legal and there is no extradition treaty with the United States. US friendly sites Bookmaker and 5Dimes have great reputations, and Bovada and BetOnline are well regarded too. These are sites US players may feel comfortable using.
There are other site that take advantage of the fact that the US online betting industry operates from places that the bookmakers are legally inaccessible. If you Google search: Oddsmaker.ag scam, or search to learn about how BetIslands closed while owing 458 players referred to them by SportsBookReview (SBR) affiliate tracking links $1,539,391 (USD) you’ll see some examples. You can also search about Alliance Sportsbook and BetRevolution for others.
The less than reputable and outright scam sites often offer large 100% up to $500 or $1,000 cash bonuses. This is because they either stiff winners, or pay in the beginning to gain early trust, then build up the post up balance and close up shop. They then rinse and repeat. Meanwhile the safest sites offer lower bonuses. For example, Bookmaker.eu is widely considered the most trusted bookmaker. Their bonus is generally only a 15% deposit match (though sometimes 20 or 25%) and is a free play credit as opposed to a cash bonus. Note: the best bonus you’ll find with reputable US sites is at www.bovada.lv. They have a 50% up to $250 free play offer.
Do however understand there are some exceptions. www.bet365.com (no US players) offers a 100% cash bonus. This is up to a considerable amount in some currencies including bonuses such as 100% up to $200 CAD (Canadian Dollar) or 100% up to £100/€100. They are also one of the largest betting sites in the world, are based and licensed in the UK, and own the English Premier League (UK Football EPL) franchise the Stoke City Potters. This is a site that doesn’t stiff winners.
Exceptions like Bet365 aside, just be careful. Generally speaking the lower the bonus, the more reputable the site. The higher the bonus, the more likely the site is rogue. If you know which sites are reputable, and how to manage the risk there is money to be made.
Type of Sportsbook Bonuses
Those new to seeking bonus offers should first realize that not all bonuses are equal. There are several different types of bonuses. The most known are deposit bonuses (which can be free play or cash), risk free bets and reduced juice. In this section I explain bonus types and touch on optimal strategy for each.
Deposit Match Bonuses (Free Player vs. Cash)
With US betting sites the most common bonus offer is a percentage of deposit match given as free play credits. A live example: www.Betonline.ag offers various 25% bonuses. Taking advantage of this with a $500 deposit will earn you a $125 bonus. This is however not a cash bonus but rather is free play credits. The difference is quite significant.
When you bet $125 cash at -110 this is risk $125 to win $113.64. If that bet wins you get back $238.64 ($125 stake + $113.64 winnings). When betting with a free play you only get back $113.64. This is because win or lose that $125 is gone. It was a free play and is not returned on a win. So understand on the same bet a $125 cash bonus would have given you $238.64 on a win. As you’re dealing with a free play only – you have $125 less than that. Of course, all things being equal, cash bonuses are best.
Free Play Strategy Tip: At some sites such as Bookmaker and DSI free plays are returned when a bet pushes. For example: betting +6 or -6 and the game ends with the favorite winning by 6. This is however not the case at all sportsbooks. At BetOnline.ag free play credits are lost on a push. When betting +7 you are really only getting +6.5. Thus always use your free play on lines with a half point already in them. Betting +4.5, -5.5, +10.5 etc. are all fine. Betting -4, +6 or -11 is not. There are many lines on the board with half point spreads in use, so don’t make the foolish mistake of shorting yourself on the spread, by betting free play credits on a line without.
All deposit match bonuses come with a rollover requirement. This is how many times you must wager your starting balance (bonus + deposit) amount prior to cashing out. If you do not want your money tied to a rollover requirement, do not accept the bonus. Once you accept, your money is most often held hostage until the terms are met.
At many sites the rollover is reasonable. At Bovada it is 3-times, at BetOnline 6-times. So, at Bovada you deposit $500 and get $250 Free Play. Here your starting balance is $750. You then need to wager $750*3=$2,250 prior to withdrawal. At BetOnline deposit $500 and get $125 free play you’ll need to wager $625*6=$3,750.
The rollover must be considered in evaluating how good a bonus is. It is wise to avoid sites with large rollover. It is not uncommon to find sites offering 50% or 100% bonuses (sometimes cash) with a 15-50 time rollover. Such bonuses are near impossible to clear before busting the account balance.
#1 Arbing Bonuses – Some players prefer to attempt to lose their bonus while making sure bets, also known as arbs. This means to bet both sides of the same match. One at the site you have a bonus with, the second at a site you do not. If the second wins you lose the bonus but win the same amount at another site where you have no rollover. Also once accounts are bust the rollover most often resets.
A very important comment about the above. This can be a great strategy, but you also need to be careful when using it. If dealing with reputable sites such as Bookmaker, 5Dimes, Bovada, etc. then arb away. With other sites you run a major risk of moving a large amount of your bankroll to a less than reputable site. There are some sportsbooks that while mostly honest find excuses to stall paying or outright stiff large winners. BTG Gaming sites VIPSports.eu, Dimeline etc, and Futurebet sites like Oddsmaker.eu are examples. You really want to avoid using such sites in the first place, and especially don’t want to be arbing into them. If you discover these sites reputations midway through, suck it up and hope to get paid, but whatever you don’t arb. Arbing into a book that might stiff is the biggest mistake a bettor can make.
All this said when arbing with straight bets it is all straight forward using the math explained in my article on hedging bets. Where it is different is with free plays. For reason you don’t get the stake back on a win… the free play is worth less. Ideally, if allowed, you want to bet the free play on an underdog, and then arb the favorite at a book you don’t have a bonus with. To see why I suggest playing with SBR’s Free Bet Calculator and reading the text on that page.
One quick warning is some sites have rules against arbing. WagerWeb has a rule regarding what they call bonus pyramiding. This means betting in such a way it appears you are attempting to bust your account. Under this rule they reserve the right to effectively rob players. The reason I say rob is it is a subjective rule and is buried in the fine print. They however do not enforce it often. A site with a similar rule that does enforce is Betway (not a good site). They, via an odd fine-print-rule that prohibits betting more than 30% of ones balance while having a bonus, have robbed many players. This is more to the point earlier of only using reputable bookies. Sites put these rules in the fine print simply so they have a way to steal from those who run up large balance by playing arbs.
#2 Using Parlays – when dealing with free bet credits it is wise, when allowed, to bet parlays rather than straight bets. The reason why should be intuitive. Remember as covered earlier when you bet with cash and win you get back stake plus win. When you bet with free play credits you only get back the win amount. Now if you understand how parlays work you know that parlays keep rolling forward stake plus win automatically. By betting in 3-team parlays you’ll be able to use the same stake three time, so long as the bet is successful. In short, with free plays the EV is much higher when parlays are used.
Risk Free Bets
Another type of bonus offered by sites are risk free bets. An example might be stake $50 on any market in today’s soccer match and if your bet loses we’ll refund it. Just like with free play credits that $50 isn’t worth $50.00. If you bet on odds or even (a bet with coin-flip odds or in other words 50/50) then the bonus is worth $25 at most. This is because half the time you win and the other half the time you lose. However, further reducing the value is that some sites offer the refunded bet also as a free play credit. In that case the value is only $12.50 tops and could be lower if rollover is required on top of that.
The best strategy dealing with risk free bets is to take the biggest odds allowed. It is a freeroll so if given the chance to bet 10/1, $50 to win $500. This is much better than betting it on 1/1 $50 to win $50. Even more so true if is the case when the refund is a free bet credit as opposed to cash. If you’re skittish over taking that large of a risk then you can also hedge the bet too.
Reduced Juice is Often the Best Bonus
The importance of line shopping is not possible to overstate. Outside proper bet staking, there is no concept more important to winning sports betting than seeking the best price. What you should know is there are some sites that offer reduced juice instead of bonuses. One example is Pinnacle Sports (no US Players) which has the highest betting limits, lowest margins and fastest payouts. Over the long run, recreational players betting main markets (while not seeking off market prices) will do better at Pinnacle than they will at any site offering them a bonus. To see how much better, I suggest reading my article Reduced Juice vs. Bonuses. This is a must read, and if you’re in the US, note that it introduces a reduced juice option friendly to Americans.
The sad part is that while players will do best with reduced juice, many players do not join the sites offering it because a bonus is not available. So, read that article and see that while yes bonuses are great, they are also not the only thing to look for. Reduced juice is a bonus (higher payout) on each and every bet and requires no rollover.
Author & Professional: Jim Griffin