Online casino bonuses play an integral in the marketing efforts of nearly every gambling site launched to date in the USA.
Deposit bonuses and other promotions offer customers cash or site credit that can be used to play casino games and win money in return for signing up for an account, making a deposit or taking some other action deemed desirable by the casino operator (such as playing a certain game).
There is a lot to know when it comes to extracting maximum value from bonuses, but today we will break it all down in simple terms. Below, we list the best casino bonuses and explain how we rank them, describe the various types of bonuses and discuss some of the pitfalls to avoid.
All discussion on this page relates strictly to legal online casinos in the USA. We do not deal with unlicensed offshore gambling sites, nor do we recommend players do business with such operations.
Offshore casinos are completely unregulated and can be especially nefarious when it comes to welcome bonuses. By contrast, licensed online casinos are subject to strict regulations and truthful advertising laws that ensure customers are treated fairly.
Best Casino Bonuses
Identifying the best casino bonuses involves much more than simply looking for those that offer the most money. Every bonus comes with terms and conditions that significantly impact the true value of any particular offer.
Identifying the Best Bonuses by Comparing Expected Value
Most prominent among the types of terms and conditions customers are likely to find are wagering requirements, also known as the rollover. Rollover is discussed in more detail lower on this page, but the short version is most bonuses require players to wager a certain amount of money before a withdrawal may be made.
For example, a casino that comes with a 10x rollover means players must wager 10 times the amount of the bonus before withdrawing. A $100 bonus with a 10x rollover would require the player to place $1,000 worth of wagers on slots or other games to clear the bonus for withdrawal.
Clearing a bonus exposes players to the house advantage built into every game. If a gambler must place a total of $1,000 worth of wagers and does so by playing an online slot with a 95% return-to-player percentage (RTP), that player is expected to lose roughly $50 on average. To put that another way, the expected value of wagering $1,000 on a 95% RTP game is -$50 ($1,000 x .05).
Note that expected value is merely a theoretical expression. Anything can happen over the short term and rarely will a player lose exactly $50 in this scenario. Even so, expected value is an accurate means of comparing bonuses to one another.
Comparing Two Example Bonuses
Imagine comparing the welcome bonuses offered by two competing online casinos. Let’s say Bonus A offers new customers $100 in return for depositing and comes with a 10x rollover. Let’s say Bonus B offers new customers $200 but comes with a 20x rollover.
Now, imagine playing a 95% RTP slot to clear both bonuses. We can quickly compare the expected value of each bonus to decide which one is truly the better deal.
Clearing Bonus A would require $1,000 worth of wagers. Doing so on a 95% slot game would yield an expected value of -$50 as we discussed above. Subtract that from the original bonus amount and we can see Bonus A is worth $50 from an expected value standpoint.
Now, let’s do the same for Bonus B. This one is worth $200 but comes with twice the rollover. Clearing this bonus would require the player to place a total of $4,000 worth of wagers. Doing so on a 95% RTP game would yield an expected value of -$200 ($4,000 x 0.05). Subtract that from the original bonus amount and we see Bonus B is actually just breakeven from an expected value standpoint.
By running this quick comparison, we have found that Bonus A is the better deal despite only offering $100 in bonus funds. Bonus B looked better at the outset, but we can see that the higher wagering requirements offset the difference (and then some).
Other Factors to Consider
Moving beyond expected value, there are several other factors we can take into consideration when ranking the best online casino bonuses.
Among those are other terms and conditions such as whether the bonus is withdrawable or is only issued as site credit, the types of games that can be played to clear the bonus, the match rate percentage and how long players have to clear the bonus.
Taking all these factors into consideration provides a clear picture of how valuable each bonus truly is. Online casinos are required by law to advertise truthfully, but marketing never tells the whole story. Understanding expected value and being aware of the terms and conditions attached to every offer goes a long way in ranking the best bonuses.
Types of Casino Bonuses
The legal US online gambling industry is always innovating, but there are a few standby types of casino bonuses that show up time and again.
Deposit Welcome Bonuses
The new customer deposit bonus is the first offer most gamblers are greeted with upon visiting the website of any licensed online casino in the United States.
Welcome bonuses are a simple proposal: the casino promises to boost the new customer’s bankroll in return for that customer signing up for an account and making a real money deposit.
Deposit bonuses are meant to encourage customers to sign up and are often issued as a percentage match rate to incentivize making a larger first deposit.
For example, a 100% deposit bonus matches the player’s first deposit dollar for dollar. If the new player deposits $100, the casino adds $100 in bonus funds. Similarly, a 200% bonus would give that player an extra $200 on top of a $100 deposit.
The bigger the match rate, the bigger the bonus.
No-Deposit Casino Bonuses
The no-deposit casino bonus is exactly what the name implies. New customers need only sign up for an account and the casino in turn gives the player a bonus that can be used to play real money games with no deposit necessary.
No-deposit bonuses are generally a good deal, but they are not free money. Nearly all no-deposit bonuses come with one or more of the following caveats:
- The bonus funds are usually issued as site credit and cannot be withdrawn. Any winnings may be withdrawn, but the bonus itself is rarely withdrawable.
- A deposit is usually required in order to withdraw any winnings.
- The bonus and any winnings obtained by wagering the bonus may be subject to a rollover. Usually, the rollover on no-deposit bonuses is nominal – in the range of 1x to 5x.
Reload bonuses are nearly identical to welcome bonuses but are offered to existing players as an incentive to make a deposit. Casinos sometimes offer blanket reload bonuses to everyone and sometimes send e-mails to players who haven’t been active for some time with custom offers.
Like new customer offers, reload bonuses usually come with wagering requirements before a withdrawal is permitted. Reload bonuses tend to be a bit smaller and come with a lower match rate, but that is not a hard and fast rule.
Free Spins Bonuses
Free spins on certain slots are offered fairly frequently by many licensed US casinos. These are usually short-term promos offered to new and existing customers alike given as an incentive to make a deposit or play a certain game.
For example, one casino might offer 10 free spins on a certain slot to all customers who make a deposit of at least $10 within the next five days. Another casino might offer all players one free spin of the $1,000,000 slot machine every day upon logging in for a small but risk-free chance at a massive payout.
One important thing to note is whether or not any winning obtained by free spins are immediately withdrawable or if those winnings must first be cleared by meeting certain wagering requirements.
Leaderboard bonuses or races incentivize high volume play. Usually, leaderboard promotions are structured such that the players who wager the most money on a certain “featured game” over the next week or month are paid bonuses or free spins.
For example, one online casino in New Jersey recently held a month-long race in which players earned leaderboard points for making deposits and placing wagers. The promotion awarded $60,000 in total prizes to the top 500 leaderboard players, including a $10,000 free play bonus for the first-place winner.
Word-of-mouth marketing is known to be highly effective, and many casinos are willing to pay customers to refer their friends. A typical refer-a-friend bonus is claimed by logging in, visiting the “refer-a-friend” tab and then inputting the e-mails of any friends who may be interested in signing up and playing.
In most cases, the referrer and the new player both receive a referral bonus in addition to any standard new customer offers. For example, a casino might offer the existing customer and the new customer $50 each in bonus money.
There is almost always some kind of qualification that must be met for both players to earn their referral bonuses. This might be the new customer having to make a first deposit of at least $25 or wagering at least $25 before the bonuses are awarded.
Loss Refund Guarantee
Loss refund bonuses are rare but often quite valuable when they can be found. A loss refund offer promises to cover a new customer’s losses up to a certain amount if luck doesn’t go their way.
Tropicana Casino and Virgin Casino in New Jersey are two prime examples of casinos with this type of welcome offer. Rather than giving new customers a sign-up bonus that must be cleared, both casinos guarantee to refund players with real money (up to $100) if they end up down money after one week of play. The best part is both casinos’ refunds are issued as actual withdrawable cash, not as bonus money.
Casino Bonus Codes
Licensed USA casinos have taken a page from their international brethren by introducing bonus codes on a widespread scale. For any newbies reading this, bonus codes are certain phrases that unlock promotions during the registration or deposit process.
Bonus codes are requested either during registration or on the deposit page in a field labeled “bonus code,” “promo code” or “referral code.” Entering a valid code at this stage qualifies the customer to receive a bonus.
Occasionally, online casinos release exclusive promo codes that qualify customers to receive an enhanced welcome bonus, usually bigger than the standard bonus publicly advertised. However, in most cases, it actually doesn’t matter whether a bonus code is even entered at all; most casinos give the same welcome bonus to all customers.
Gambling sites mainly use bonus codes for marketing purposes. Not only does the idea of a secret code that unlocks a special bonus provide a sense of exclusivity, it also helps the casino track its various marketing campaigns (i.e. a casino operator might announce one bonus code on radio ads, a different code on TV ads and yet another on online ads even though all three codes give customers exactly the same bonus).
Still, if a customer has a bonus code, it is best to enter it to ensure the player receives the best bonus possible. Any promo codes seen at CasinosUSA.com are up-to-date and ensure gamblers earn a healthy welcome bonus.
How Online Casino Bonuses Work
The basic idea behind bonus codes is to give gamblers an incentive to sign up, make a deposit or play a certain game. Casinos are willing to spend a little money upfront on bonus offers in return for signing up new players, some of whom will stick around and become regular customers.
How Do Casino Bonuses Make Economic Sense?
The economics behind bonuses vary depending on how the bonus is structured and the goals of the casino operator.
Casinos in the USA may put a lighthearted face on their customer-facing operations, but the people behind the scenes are quite analytic. They know the average value of every new customer and happily throw money around in order to attract new players.
Additionally, the US casino market is becoming increasingly competitive. Some casino operators are willing to take a hit in the short term in order to establish a foothold in the market.
Finally, many casino bonuses come with terms and conditions that partially reduce the true value provided to customers. Bonuses that come with high wagering requirements, for example, require customers to place $X worth of wagers prior to withdrawing. Since the house usually wins over the long run, many customers will lose some (or all) of the bonus money back to the casino over the course of clearing their bonuses.
This is why it is critical to read through the terms and conditions of every promotional offer. Some bonuses may look good upfront but come with high wagering requirements. Other bonuses may not look as enticing but come with much lower wagering requirements that make them much better in terms of value.
See the next section for more on that.
Casino Bonus Clearing Requirements Explained
Clearing requirements, also known as “the rollover,” are important to understand. Most US casino bonuses come with clearing requirements that must be met in order to withdraw the bonus money and any winnings obtained by wagering the bonus.
It is not uncommon to read through the terms and conditions of a bonus and find that the bonus comes with a 10x, 20x or even higher rollover. This means the bonus must be “rolled over” ten times, twenty times or more before a withdrawal may be requested.
For example, a 10x rollover on a $200 bonus would require the player to place $2,000 worth of wagers in order to withdraw the original bonus and any winnings. Likewise, a 20x rollover on that same bonus would require the player to place $4,000 worth of wagers.
The amount of rollover attached to a bonus has a direct impact on how worthwhile that bonus actually is. If a customer is choosing between two bonuses that are identical other than one having a 10x rollover and the other having a 20x rollover, the bonus with the lower rollover is the obvious choice (for examples and more on this, scroll back up to the “best casino bonuses” section).
Terms and Conditions to Note
Even the best casino bonuses come with terms and conditions that players should understand prior to taking up any particular offer. Rollover requirements, withdrawal restrictions, eligibility clauses and more all play a role in defining which bonuses are worthwhile and which are best avoided.
- Rollover Requirements: See the previous section for an in-depth explanation, but rollover requirements require players to place a certain minimum amount of wagers in order to unlock a bonus and any winnings for withdrawal.
- Sticky vs. Cashable Bonuses: Sticky bonuses cannot be withdrawn and are instead issued as site credit. Money win with sticky bonuses may be cashed out, but the bonus itself “sticks” with the casino. Cashable bonuses tend to be smaller but are a welcome sight because the bonus money and winnings may be withdrawn.
- Time limits: Every bonus has an expiration date eventually. Some bonuses may be offered for years on end while others are only here for one day and gone the next. Players should also note any time limits regarding how long they have to clear a bonus for withdrawal.
- Eligibility: A combination of state and federal laws require casinos to restrict real money player to eligible customers only. This means customers must be physically located within state lines and at least 21 years old to claim bonuses (including no-deposit bonuses).
- Verified Customers Only: Every state that has legalized online gambling to date requires casino operators to definitively verify the identity of each customer. This includes (at a minimum) providing the last four of one’s social security number, address, phone number and e-mail.