How do you unlock a bonus?

Bonuses come in all kinds of varieties and have changed a lot over time, but what makes it possible to accept and play casino bonuses in a profitable way? This depends on a number of factors and we will go through these factors step by step in this article.

Read about the simpler version of clearing the casino bonus here

Players often see it right away on the homepage of an online casino, the welcome bonus. A casino bonus to lure new players to actually play at the respective online casino. Nowadays there are many different casino bonuses available at different online casinos.

For example, there are bonuses where you immediately receive the bonus money on top of your deposited money. These are cashable, clearplay or sticky bonuses. But there are also bonuses where you receive the bonus money only after you have met the conditions. If you don’t receive the bonus money until after the fact, this is called a post wager bonus. But what is the difference between a cashable, clearplay or sticky casino bonus? Hopefully this will become clear with some examples.

  • Cashable, clearplay and sticky casino bonuses

    When a casino bonus is cashable it means that the player, after meeting all the requirements, can withdraw the bonus amount and make it cash. Clearplay bonuses are casino bonuses that allow the player to unlock the bonus step by step. Online casinos that offer these types of bonuses often have two balances or player balances.

    If you hover your mouse over your balance you’ll see the amount is divided into actual money and bonus money. If the player has completed 1/10 of the bonus terms then 1/10 of the bonus money will be transferred to real money. The player can then choose to have the unlocked portion of the bonus (1/10 in this case) paid out.
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    A sticky bonus is a casino bonus where, unlike the bonuses discussed above, the bonus money will never be cashed out. You can, however, use the bonus money to play. Now it sounds like sticky bonuses are not attractive at all but the opposite is true. But which type of bonus is the most attractive depends on much more than just the type of bonus.

    Elements such as house edge of casino games, the terms and conditions set by the online casino but also the size of the bonus play a role. These variables are often different at all online casinos but we will now discuss the guidelines you need to pay attention to.

  • Variables

    All of the variables that influence whether a casino bonus is attractive to a player are given in the online casino’s bonus terms. If a player does not have separate bonus terms then everything about the bonus is given in the general terms and conditions (T&C). This lists the most common terms and conditions associated with an online casino bonus.

    • Amount of bonus money: how much can a player receive? Often it says something like 100% up to $20 or 50% up to $25. In the first case you would have to deposit 20 euros to receive 20 euros and in the second example you would have to deposit 50 euros to receive the maximum bonus amount of 25 euros. If you deposit more, say in the first case you deposit $25, then you will receive the maximum bonus amount of $20 and not $25. Here players should pay close attention because this may be relevant to the next variable in the terms and conditions.
    • Wagering requirement: Perhaps the most important variable when it comes to casino bonuses. How much must a player have wagered at the casino in order for the bonus, portion of a bonus or your winnings to be paid out. Online casinos often indicate this by a factor times the bonus and/or deposit. For example an online casino may indicate that the wagering requirement is 10x deposit + bonus. If we go back to the first example with the 100% bonus of $20 then the wagering requirement for this bonus will be: 10x (20+20) = 400. So a player will need to have played for 400 euros in the casino in order to make a payout. Players may choose to withdraw earlier but in that case the bonus amount will be forfeited and the casino bonus will be forfeited.
    • Casino games: it is always stated which casino games a player may play when using a casino bonus. It may say that all games count towards the wagering requirement but sometimes certain games are excluded. It is very important for players to read carefully which casino games they can and cannot play. Because if you bet as little as 25cts on a game that is forbidden to play when you have a bonus, and you would subsequently win the 1 million jackpot, the online casino will not pay you out because you violated the terms. It is also common that certain casino games only count for a certain percentage of the wagering requirement. For example, it might say roulette counts for 10%. This means that if you bet 10 Euros on roulette it will only count for 1 Euro in order to fulfill the wagering requirement.
    • Method of deposit: this is something from the last few years and indicates the online casino that if a player uses a certain deposit method he will not be eligible for the casino bonus. For example it states that if a player makes a deposit using a credit card the bonus will not be credited.
    • Wagering period: The last variable we would like to mention is the period in which the player has to fulfill the wagering requirement. This means that in our example of the 400 Euros the player will have to do this within a certain number of days. Within 15 or 30 days are common time frames. This is not so much a variable that lowers the value of the casino bonus, but the player should have the time to meet all the requirements. This is because if the wagering requirements are not met within the allotted time frame then the casino bonus, plus any winnings, will be forfeited.
  • Expected value

    Now that we know the different types of casino bonuses and the possible variables we can finally determine whether a casino bonus is worth playing for. To determine this we need to calculate the expected value. The formula for this is as follows:

    EV = B – (WR x HE) or Expected Value = Bonus amount minus (wagering requirement x house edge)

    The bonus amount and the wagering requirement are often known, but then it comes down to the house edge to ultimately determine whether a casino bonus is worth playing for. By house edge we mean the advantage the online casino has in playing the game. Suppose a casino game has an house edge of 1%, then statistically speaking, if you play 100 games with a $1 deposit you will lose $1 (1% of $100).

    The house edge depends on two factors, the software used by the online casino and the casino game you are allowed to play. This is one of the reasons why the variable Casino games in the bonus terms plays a very important role. Let’s say you’re allowed to play blackjack while clearing the in our example mentioned bonus of a 20 euro deposit and 20 euro bonus with a wagering requirement of 400. Then you’ll get the following calculation if you play this casino bonus at an online casino with NetEnt as software: 20-(400*0.35%) = 18.60 euro. The expected profit from this bonus is 18.60 euros.

    But suppose the bonus terms state that the game blackjack is prohibited and you can only meet the round-robin requirement with the game Caribbean Stud Poker. The house edge of Caribbean Stud Poker from software producer NetEnt is 2.56%. Then we get the following calculation for the expected value. 20-(400*2.56%) = 9.76 euros. The expected profit from this bonus is 9.76 euros.

    So we are the huge difference in EV amounts and that is only because we are allowed to play a certain casino game or not.

  • House edge casino games

    There are several software vendors active on the online casino market and each has for itself a certain house edge for a game. In the expected value calculation we just made, we assumed two completely different casino games, but just within the same game the house edge can differ per software provider. Standard Blackjack has a house edge at NetEnt of 0.35%. Playtech has 0.43% while Microgaming has 0.12% house edge.

    How is it possible that the same game has different house edge? That depends on how the online casino sets up the random number generator (RNG). But also whether one software provider uses six or eight sticks of cards in its standard blackjack game. In any case, it will never happen that a software producer has a house edge of 5% when playing blackjack, at least not at the reputable online casinos and their software suppliers.

    All the necessary information about what the house edge is of a particular game of a certain software producer can be found on the internet with a little research. For licensing purposes the software producer may even have the house edge of all offered casino games on its own site.

    The house edge mentioned by NetEnt for blackjack (0.35%) is only that low if a player plays blackjack according to the corresponding basic strategy. So what should a player do if during a blackjack hand the banker shows a seven and you have an ace and a six? And so the decision of whether or not to take a card may vary from one software producer to another. Just like the house edge of the game itself, there are many sites on the internet where you can find the optimal strategy for playing online blackjack. In real life casinos, these cards are simply laid out on the blackjack table to help players understand the game.
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    This is not only true for blackjack but all card games in the casino have an optimal strategy to play by which the player does not lose more than the usual percentage. This is not the case with roulette, where all percentages are fixed in advance because the player can only make a choice at the beginning of the game and not during it.

  • Variance & Strategy

    Now that we know the most important bonus variables and the calculation of the bonus value (expected value), we can start talking about what is now the best strategy to play a particular bonus. If the expected value of a bonus is positive, meaning that the player has money left over after playing the round, it is just a matter of playing it out. In our example of playing 400 euros on blackjack, that means making a deposit and playing 400 hands of blackjack for 1 euro per hand according to the optimal strategy (basic strategy).

    We had calculated that the bonus in our example had an expected value of 18.60 euros. But that doesn’t mean that a player will actually end up with exactly 18.60 euros. This is due to the variance. The statistical explanation may not mean much to players but we can actually put it very simply. It could be that one time you get a lot more out of the bonus and another time a lot less, but on average over the long term you should end up with the normal expected value. For example, you can easily lose or win ten games of blackjack in a row, instead of losing one game and then losing another.

    Cashable and clearplay bonuses with a relatively high expected value can be played out, but this does not apply to sticky bonuses. The player cannot cash out a sticky bonus but can only play with the bonus money. The best strategy for playing sticky bonuses is to use the Two Tier betting system. Basically, you try to double (target 2) or quadruple (target 4) your starting balance (deposit and bonus). Now this strategy comes across as pure gambling with there is a whole thought behind it.

    If you play out a sticky bonus without Two Tier betting then you always (positive variance aside) end up with less money than your deposit. This is because all games in the casino have a house edge and you as a player lose over every bet (in the long run). Thus, you have nothing to gain from the sticky bonus of course. This is why you should use the Two Tier betting method to make sticky bonuses profitable. The idea behind this is that by using the sticky bonus you can win more than you can lose.

    If we go back to our example of a $20 deposit with a $20 bonus, the starting balance is $40. If we are unable to pay out the 20 euro bonus then the expected value of the bonus is -2.40 euro. Now we are going to put these 40 euros on red while playing roulette. The probability of winning 40 euros is 18 divided by 37 times the stake. There are 18 red numbers in roulette out of a total of 37, and we also count the 0, of course. We do this minus the chance of losing 20 euros. We don’t lose $40 because we only deposited $20 and therefore only have a $20 risk. We then get 19 divided by 37 times the deposit. We subtract these two amounts and then we see what average additional value we create on a bonus that was previously not interesting at all.

    So the final formula is (18/37) x 40 – (19/37) x 20 = 9.20 euros.

    We create an additional value of 46% by setting the total balance to red. Of course, there is a chance that in this case the ball lands on black, but statistically speaking, with two spins you would fall once on black and once on red. And then the variance comes around the corner again, because it could also be 2x black or 2x red. To break through this it’s just a matter of playing a lot of casino bonuses, thereby reducing the variance. An advantage of the Two Tier betting is that while betting your full balance you can immediately work on your rounding requirement. And suppose your sticky bonus is hit 50/50, this also saves you from playing half of your play requirement, as you only end up playing one.

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Variance is the key

So determining whether or not a casino bonus is worth accepting and playing depends on a lot of factors and variables. It also requires discipline on the part of the player, because do you constantly bet 1 euro at blackjack even if you happen to lose five hands in a row? If you don’t and you increase the stakes, the risk of variance is higher and the chances of losing everything are higher.

Of course the chances of winning are there too, but as a casino bonus player your goal is to keep the variance as low as possible. Do you, as a player, have enough bankroll (money available) because what if you play four sticky bonuses and during doubling it goes wrong four times? Can you then effortlessly play a sticky bonus for the fifth time? Everyone deals with these kinds of setbacks differently and it will soon become clear if unlocking casino bonuses is for you. We hope this article has given you a better insight into the world of casino bonuses.