Free Bets – Why You Must Read the Fine Print

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Ritesh Gogineni
Editor/Founder of The False 9.

Sports betting is big business here in the UK. It’s so deeply entrenched in our culture that its practically impossible to find a high street here that doesn’t feature at least one, or two bookies. Online trade is booming here too. It’s estimated that 29% of activity in the £12.6bn industry takes place on the world-wide web. With so much cash up for grabs, it’s not surprising that literally every bookmaker in cyber space offers promotions and deals to grab punters’ attention. These offers often start upon you signing up, and take the form of various amounts of bonus cash, or completely free bets.

For the customer, particularly in the UK, they’re spoilt for choice when it comes to bookmakers, so the plethora of offers that they can take advantage are a welcome bonus, if you’ll excuse the pun. Who doesn’t like an extra fifty quid to stick on their team in the local derby, or a free bet if their horse is narrowly beaten in the National?

In the face of such seemingly irresistible offers, it’s easy to get carried away. Always take a moment to review the terms of conditions of any offer that you’re planning on signing up for. It’s quite often the case that all is not as it seemed when it comes to making withdrawals after a win using a free bet, or bonus cash.

A tiny link to the offer’s specific terms can often be found somewhere on the popup that you found the deal on, or alternatively, on the bookie’s promotions section of their website. If you’re unsure, get onto chat with the support team, and they’ll provide a link to their bonus conditions.


Making sense of all the different bonus offers can be a challenge.

When attempting to take advantage of a bonus offer from an unknown casino, it’s always worth looking at their credentials. Find out who licenses the site, if it’s MGA, or UK Gambling Commission, you’re pretty safe in the knowledge that they’ll honour their deals and promotions. The same cannot be said for unlicensed sites, or ones providing a pseudo-license. If in doubt, stick with the high-street names, and you can’t go far wrong. Granted there can still be instances involving cheeky tactics where the bookie hides behind bonus terms and conditions but with a thorough knowledge of the fine print, and a suitable gaming commission to help hold the site accountable, you’ll not need to worry too much.

When things go wrong

In the most cases, customer complaints about free bets and bonus offers stem from a misunderstanding or ignorance of the site’s policies regarding the promotion. A common complaint relates to proposition wagers or in-play bets not being counted towards rollovers. Some bookmakers and online casinos also impose specific restrictions regarding the amount time a player is required to bet through the bonus wagering requirements.

Remember, gambling sites aren’t in the business of giving away free cash. If they were, they’d all be bust. What these sites really want is to appear as if they enjoy splashing lots of free money around, but in reality, conditions relating to bonuses will often make actualising any profit incredibly rare.

A top footballer learnt the hard way that it’s very easy to get in over your head. It’s good to remember that most bookmakers have a self-exclusion policy which you should use if you feel that your betting beyond your means.

Knowing what to expect will greatly increase your betting satisfaction.

What you need to know about free bets

A whole lot of confusion can be avoided if customers take a little time to learn more about how free bets work. Free bets are typically a fixed amount of money that are credited to a customer’s account. They usually must be placed in full, and sometimes have stipulations on which events they can be used on.

You place a free bet in much the same way you would a regular bet. On most sites, once a selection is made, the option to use a free bet, rather than the customer’s cash balance, will be present on the bet slip. One of the arguably sneaky ways that a casino will make it unlikely that your free bet will translate to heavy losses for the company is by making free bets “stake not returned”. This means, that if you backed United to win at 1/1 with a £10 free bet you would only receive £10 back if they won, rather than the £20 you’d walk away with had you used your cash balance to place the bet.

Typical free bet restrictions

As well as being stake not returned, free bets will often have required minimum odds. These may be 1/1, 1/2, or somewhere in between.

It’s also common for book makers to limit the market which the free bet can be placed on. If you were awarded it as part of a World Cup promotion, for example, you may be required to place the free bet on a specific game at the tournament.

Free bets or Bonuses?

Some bookmakers prefer to use a bonus cash system to reward their loyal customers, or to entice new ones. Bonus cash differs from free bets in two main ways. Firstly, it behaves in the same way as your cash balance. That means if you win a bet with bonus cash, your bonus cash stake will also be returned. The other difference is that bonus cash almost exclusively has a wagering requirement. Put simply, this refers to the number of times a player would need to bet their bonus funds (and/or deposit amount) through to withdraw the funds. Bonus cash will have a time limit to make these wagering requirements.


Beware of bonus cash where your cash balance is used before the bonus is. Depending on your balance, this can make wagering through sufficient times even more difficult. You can see why it is so important to always read the small print.

Below are the most common free bet and bonus offers that you’ll come across:

  • Match stake bonus/free bet
  • Free bet series
  • First deposit bonuses
  • First bet win bonuses

One of the most common bonus offers available is the match stake bonus/free bet. These promotions require you to open an account at the online casino and place an initial bet. The casino then matches the amount staked as either bonus cash or a free bet.

Typically, there’ll be a maximum and a minimum amount on the offer. Most casinos require a minimum of £5 for a match stake bonus and a maximum of £25, or £50 is common. Minimum odds usually apply too, and they can be found in the offer terms and conditions.

The free bet series is like the match stake bonus, only the full amount is released periodically. You may be required to bet £10 each week, for a given number of weeks, to receive a £10 free bet on the weekend’s action. Even if the offer doesn’t have a specific time frame quoted, you will most likely need to wait for your free bet to settle before moving onto the next part. This is a sneaky way to ensure at least a few repeat visits from customers.

First deposit bonuses (also known as initial deposit bonuses) have become much less common for bookmakers in the past few years, although they are still offered by several online casinos. These offers typically provide you with a bonus upon making a first deposit at virtual casino

Most first deposit bonus offers specify a percentage of your initial deposit up to a maximum limit. If you make a first deposit of £200 for example, and the offer is for a 50% bonus, you will end up with £300 in your online casino account. If you make a deposit of £500, and the deposit bonus is 50% or up to £200, you will get a total of £700 in your account instead of £750.

As it’s bonus cash, you will be required to wager winnings through a given number of times. This will be found in the offer terms and conditions.

With first bet win bonuses, you get a bonus if you win with your first bet. A typical offer might be triple winnings on your first bet, or perhaps even greater. The winnings may be credited as cash, or bonus money.

Take the time to read the T&C

As you can see, there are quite a few bonus and free bet variations out there, and at first glance it might seem easy to get confused. Whilst the terms and conditions page of a casino is probably the last thing you want to look at if you’re eager to start betting, giving it a careful once over is the best way to avoid any potential mishaps. When in doubt, it is also advisable to clarify any issues you aren’t clear about with a customer service representative over live chat, or the telephone.

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