Bookmakers' "Free Bets" Explained: The Good, The Bad, & the Ugly!

In this article, we discuss the online bookmakers’ tactics for attempting to lure new customers with the good old fashioned "Free Bets" tactic. Is there really such a thing as a "free bet" with a bookmaker?

In our opinion, the answer is Yo. Which is a combination of both yes and no. Let us explain…

Go to any online bookmaker's website, and you will undoubtedly be bombarded with ‘free bet’ offers for signing up for a new account. Only occasionally, is there an offer of free bets for existing customers. There is a reason for this:

As discussed in a previous Shootin’ the Breeze article: "On-Course Bookmakers – Dinosaurs of the Future?’" the advent of the Internet turned betting and bookmaking on its head. Previous to online betting, three big established and traditional firms ruled the betting roost in Great Britain. They were Ladbrokes, William Hill & Coral. The reason for this, was the dominant presence they then had on the high streets across the length and breadth of the country. Then new digital technology came along called the Internet, and made it a whole lot easier to place or take bets remotely. The biggest winner of this digital revolution was Bet365, who saw the future first and launched in 2001 with just 12 employees. From a standing start they now have over 90 million customers world-wide, some 7,000 employees and a turnover of a staggering £2.85 billion. Paddy Power wasn’t far behind either. They also embraced the new technology and acted accordingly. From virtually nowhere, they have also become one of the largest betting companies in the world within a similar time period. The established and traditional ‘big three’ soon realised that someone else was eating their lunch and also moved quickly into the digital age themselves, bringing the proliferation of online betting sites we have today (for more information on this we highly recommend the book / audio book named ‘Punters: How Paddy Power Bet Billions & Changed Gambling Forever’ – which is reviewed on our Book Club page).

If you type the words ‘online bookmaker’ into Google, you get 8,800,000 results in 0.39 seconds. To say the competition for business is fierce is somewhat of a massive understatement. Hence the need for incentives, and other methods of persuasion to entice and attract potential customers to use their betting platforms and websites. It is from this, that the inducement of ‘free bets’ was born. 

OK, enough of the history lesson. Let’s discuss the common types of free bets that are available, and are they worth signing up for and taking advantage of? 

It’s important, very important, that before you get your debit card out and sign up with any online bookmaker, you read and understand the small print in the terms & conditions that come with the so called ‘free bets’. In our experience, some bookmakers made you jump through hoops to claim or cash out any winning bets. The good news is, that the Gambling Commission have gotten a grip of this in recent years, and things are now more transparent and straight-forward. However, caution is the key word here, and we can’t stress enough the need to read the terms & conditions before you sign up and deposit your money into any bookmaker's account.

Wagering Requirements:

Be especially aware of "Wagering Requirements". This is the amount of money you need to bet to trigger your free bet or claim any winnings. Take this as an example: 

The online bookmaker of your choice is offering a £30 free bet when you deposit and stake only £10. Sounds like a good deal? Not really. This is because the wagering requirement that comes with the free bet, stipulates that you need to bet 3 x the bonus amount in addition to your £10 stake to get your winnings and potentially cash out. Let’s work this through:

£10 deposit + £30 bonus = £40. 

£40 x 3 wagers = £120. 

So, in reality, you have to stake a minimum of £120 before you are allowed to claim your £30 bonus.

In our rating system of the good, the bad, or the ugly, any bet that requires a wagering requirement of this type or size is ugly. Due to this, our advice is to give any ‘free bet’ that has any such wagering requirement a very wide swerve. The good news is, that free bets without any wagering requirements can be found without too much trouble these days. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Stake Not Returned (SNR) Bet:

The first thing to understand is that with the majority (but not all) of free bets, they are given on a ‘Stake Not Returned’ (SNR) basis. This is how it works: With a normal bet, you place £20 on a horse at 3/1. If it wins, you finish up with £80 in your account. That’s £60 in winnings and your original £20 stake, which has been returned. With a £20 SNR bet, you would finish up with only £60 in your account. That is because the initial £20 was given to you free by the bookmaker and therefore is not returned. 

Free Bet Deposit Bonus (Matched Deposit Bet):

One of the most common free bets offered is a free bet deposit bonus or matched deposit bet. This is where the bookmaker will give you a free bet that matches the size of your first deposit into the account. Deposit £20 and get a free bet to the same value of £20. Simple. Usually, these bets can only be claimed once. Therefore, it makes sense to take the full or maximum amount possible with the offer. Most offers are in the region of £10 - £50 so they are manageable. However, as mentioned previously, always check the terms & conditions, as there may be the dreaded wagering requirements such as placing a specific number of bets at minimum odds. Usually, the bets have to be at even money or above. In our rating system of the good, the bad, or the ugly, this bet is good. But only if there are no wagering requirements for placing a certain number of bets.

Matched Free Bet:

This is one of the most common type of free bets offered by bookmakers. You are required to make a deposit to open your new account. However, you are also required to place a bet before the free bet is credited to your account. The free bet value will be equal to the size of your first bet. So, make a £30 bet and then receive a free £30 bet. Once again, it is virtually certain that the initial bet you place will have to be at certain odds (above evens, for instance), and the same will apply to the free bet issued. In our rating system, this bet is also good.

Money Back or Risk Free Bet:

Another popular types of free bet offered is that you get your money back if your bet loses. It is common for this type of bet to be offered on big events such as the Cheltenham, Ascot, Aintree, or Goodwood festivals, for instance. Basically, it is a genuine, risk-free, hit of a bet. You place a bet. If it wins, you get paid out as normal. If it loses, your stake money is refunded in the form of cash (credited to your account balance) or as a free bet. Normally, the free bet is a maximum of £5 or £10. This type of free bet is commonly offered to both existing and new customers as a reward for loyalty. In our good, bad, or ugly rating system, there are no prizes for guessing that this is good.

Price Boost / Enhanced Bets:

While technically these are not free bets, they are promoted by the bookmakers as offering free money. These are used at events such as the main horse racing festivals to attract new customers. The offer will be something along the lines of backing a very short priced, odds-on favourite at the price of 10/1 when its actual market price is 1/3 on.  It sounds like a good deal. Possibly. There is always a maximum stake value associated with these bets, and more often than not, it is a nominal £1. Therefore, the maximum amount of money you can win is £10. It’s also worth remembering that the short priced, odds-on favourite actually has to win the race to trigger the winnings. Almost always, the winnings are paid out as free bets. Due to these factors on our good, bad, or ugly rating scale, we rate this as bad. 

With most free bet offers, it is essential to understand that you will usually have a specific amount of time to use them. The time scale can vary depending on the bookmaker, but normally it is somewhere between 7 and 30 days after the bet is triggered. If, for some reason, you do not use it within this time frame the bet will be removed. Therefore, the golden rule is an easy one: use it or lose it!

Accumulator Bets:

Accumulator bets, while not new customer promotions, are incentives to place your money on high risk bets with a low probability of winning. Bookmakers just love punters who stake accumulator bets. The reason is very simple. The probability of the punter winning and the bookmaker having to pay out is very low. However, accumulator bets are extremely popular, and for the reasons stated above, they are pushed and marketed very aggressively by the bookmakers. They are also known with some bookmakers as a "Bet Builder". 

An accumulator bet (commonly known as an ‘Acca’) is a bet that combines multiple outcomes into one single bet to create a bigger payout. This is done by multiplying the odds of each individual selection, which allows the punter to bet on every outcome in a single bet. With most online bookmakers, you can choose up to 20 selections in any single accumulator bet. To encourage you to place accumulator bets, the bookmakers offer a variety of incentives. Such as:

Acca Insurance:

"Acca insurance" is when the bookmaker will return your original stake or bet if just one of the legs in the accumulator loses. Usually, the Acca has to be a minimum of five legs before this is offered. However, the stake is normally returned as a free bet and not credited back as cash into your account balance.

Acca Bonus / Boost Offers:

An Acca bonus / boost offer is when the bookmaker increases or "boosts" the value of the bet. Sometimes by up to 20%. However, as always, be very wary of the wagering requirements, as there are usually a number of conditions, such as a minimum number of legs required in the Acca bet. The bonus or boost amount is usually applied to the winnings and not the initial stake. The ideal Acca bet would be one where you receive both an Acca boost and Acca insurance. If you find one, then please let us know! To be honest, we are not great fans of accumulator bets in any form due to their low probability of winning. Therefore, on the good, bad, or ugly scale, we rate these types of offers as ugly.

Free Bet Clubs:

Free bet clubs are one of the few incentives that online bookmakers offer to both existing and new customers. Basically, they are a loyalty scheme where customers are rewarded with free bets for betting with the same bookmaker each week. This is to try and stop you from wandering off to other bookmakers' sites, looking for better odds or more attractive offers. Normally, free bets are given on a weekly basis if bets of a required value are placed within that timeframe. SKY Bet currently has an offer of a £5 free bet if £30 is wagered from Sunday to Sunday. On our good, bad, or ugly scale, this comes in as a good for the simple reason that you are being rewarded for betting online, which you would be doing anyway.

When is a Free Bet not a Free Bet?

As mentioned above, some online bookmakers appear to go out of their way to prevent you from actually using the free bets they offer on their websites. In our opinion, one of the biggest culprits in such dark arts is Paddy Power. Let us explain why we believe this is so:

During the recent Cheltenham Festival, Paddy Power offered a £5 free bet on any race of your choice, for each of the four days. There is no issue with that, obviously. However, the issue was in the manner in which you needed to redeem and use the Free Bets: As always, you made your selection and choice of horse to back with the free bet. The bet then goes on your bet slip. So far, so good. However, this is when misdirection and sleight of hand come into play. There is a button / box next to your selection where you would normally add your stake amount. But this one is saying "Claim / Use Free Bet". In this case, it says "£5 Free Bet". It’s as plain as the nose on your face. You can’t miss it. You click on it, and it lists the bet selection you have chosen and asks you to confirm. You obviously click "Yes" and think that’s it, job done. Thank you very much, Paddy Power. However, if you were to look at your account balance at the top of the screen, it has been reduced by the value of the £5 free bet. Therefore, you have placed the bet with your own money and not redeemed the free bet. Confusing? Yes, we totally agree. What you actually need to do to redeem the Free Bet is to also find the additional secret button that is required to be pressed, which says, "Use Free Bet Balance". By accident or design, this button is inconveniently placed at the very bottom of the bet slip. Until you realise this, you are placing bets with your own money. So, in effect, Paddy Power is taking rather than giving. We believe that the additional secret button is simply not needed but has purposely been placed there to trip you up. Why Paddy Power, the self-appointed ‘Punters Friend’ has to resort to these types of underhand tactics for a £5 free bet is beyond us, to be truthful. But there you have it. This type of practice is most definitely ugly and needs to be called out.

We would also like to say that when it comes to using and placing bets online, this is not our first rodeo by any stretch of the imagination. We both have had numerous online betting accounts for well over twenty years and use them almost on a daily basis. We know our way around these sites. As always, the message is simple but important. Be cautious, check and double check the Free Bet requirements and exactly what is required to redeem and place what you believe to be a "Free Bet".

Important Factors:

If you have gotten this far, then well done! To finish, we would just like to go over the important factors associated with the picking and choosing of your free bets before you get your debit card out. Always give some serious thought before you deposit some of your hard earned cash into any bookmaker's account. 

Wagering requirements: Did we mention wagering requirements? Good. We are going to mention them again. It really is that important. It goes without saying that the bets with the lowest wagering requirements are the most attractive. But be sure to check, then double check, exactly what is required. Some offers make it almost nigh on impossible to convert the free bets into cash. Buyer beware! 

Size of stake or bet: Just how much do you need to bet to claim the free bets on offer? 

Qualifying odds: Bookmakers almost always have a minimum level of odds that your free bets can be applied to. This is to simply stop you from putting all of the free bet amount on a 1/5 odds on shot and hoovering up the money. In our experience, free bets usually have to be even money or above. 

Time periods: Most free bets issued by bookmakers will have a time period with an expiry date. If you don’t use it before the expiry date, then you lose it. Again, ensure you read the terms and conditions. Be certain of the time period within which you need to use your free bet. 

As we all know, bookmakers rarely give you something for nothing. However, free bets can be had if you know what you are doing and understand where, when, and how to use them. Happy punting! 

A few of the best free bet sites are shown below: