One of the more popular promotional gimmicks in online gambling is the “no deposit casino.”
One way of looking at this phenomenon is that it gives gamblers the opportunity to win real money without having to risk any cash of their own.
That’s not a bad way of looking at it, but I think it leaves out some important details. Gambling, more than most activities, rewards intelligence. More importantly, it rewards being well-informed.
You can find a no deposit casino that fits any description imaginable. Some of them cater to gamblers in the United States. Many of them run on the most popular software platforms. A lot of them even allow you to play almost any game you want to with the free money they offer.
This includes versions of games like baccarat, blackjack, craps, roulette, slot machines, and video poker. It even includes keno games and some of the newer casino card game that are becoming so popular (like Ultimate Texas Hold’em.)
But are these kinds of deals worth your time?
This post answers that question in exhaustive detail:
What Is a “No Deposit Casino?”
A no deposit casino is just a casino which offers a signup bonus worth real money in exchange for just signing up for an account at the casino. At most online casinos, you’re required to deposit money before wagering any money. At a no deposit casino, they’ll give you some money for free just to try their games.
This is not the same thing as offering “free games.” All online casinos that I know of make free versions of their games available. With these free games, you just risk play money chips, which are about as valuable as the money in a game of Monopoly. I know gamblers who love these free, “play-money” games, but I think they’re mostly a waste of time.
I didn’t come here to gamble without the opportunity of winning money.
And I know I must risk money to have a chance at winning money.
But a no deposit casino, at least theoretically, DOES give you an opportunity to win real money.
But they almost always have a lot of restrictions. I’ll cover the most common restrictions and their categories in this post.
Here’s a quick example of a no deposit casino bonus, though:
When you sign up for one specific casino, they offer you $50 free just for signing up. You don’t have to deposit any money. You register an account, input the casino bonus code, and they credit your account with $50 in real money.
Why would they do this?
I’ll get into that in more detail soon, but for now, understand that these casinos WANT customers. Most gamblers, even if they sign up for a casino just to get a free $50 chip, will want to continue gambling.
When that $50 runs out, the casino is expecting the gambler to deposit more money to keep playing.
A percentage of these gamblers never make a deposit, but the casinos make enough money on the percentage that do to make up for it.
How Do Free Spins Work at Online Slot Machines?
A closely related promotion to the no deposit bonus is the free spins offer at online slot machines. Instead of just giving you free money, the casino lets you play a specific slot machine game for a pre-determined number of spins. You get to keep the winnings.
Their rationale for this is the same:
They’re hoping you’ll eventually deposit and play with real money.
And like the no deposit bonuses I mentioned in the last section, these free spin offers come with a set of restrictions, too.
You might think these casinos are fools and lose a lot of money on promotions like this, but you’d be wrong.
The online casinos monitor these free spin offers and no deposit bonuses closely to make sure they’re getting the kind of return on investment they need to keep offering these promotions.
The accountants at online casinos are generally some of the best number-crunchers in the world.
You don’t need to worry about an online casino going out of business because they were giving out free slot machine spins, I promise you.
One of the biggest restrictions online casinos put on both these kinds of offers are wagering requirements. I cover that concept in the next section.
What Are Wagering Requirements and How Do They Affect the Possibility of Profiting from Free Chips?
A wagering requirement (or “rollover requirement”) is one of the ways online casinos protect themselves from players making insane amounts of profits off their promotional offers. Even regular casino matching deposit bonuses have wagering requirements attached to them, but the wagering requirements for no deposit bonuses are usually more stringent.
The wagering requirement is just the amount you need to wager before being allowed to cash out your money. It’s usually expressed as a multiple of the amount of money in your account, including both your deposit and any bonus you might have. In the case of a no deposit bonus, the wagering requirement is just a multiple of that bonus.
Here’s a quick example to illustrate:
You can get a $50 free bonus at Casino XYZ. The playthrough requirement on this bonus is 30X, which means you need to make $1500 in wagers before cashing out. Also, the bonus can only be used to play certain games—slot machines, keno, scratch cards, and bingo.
You can play video poker and some table games with your bonus money, but the playthrough requirements increase to 60X your money, or $3000.
And some table games are completely off limits to wagering with this bonus—these include baccarat, blackjack, craps, pai gow poker, roulette, sic bo, and casino war.
And if you make a single bet at any of these games, the highest wagering requirement applies. In other words, if you make a single bet on Ultimate Texas Hold’em, you must meet the 60X wagering requirement, not the 30X requirement.
The first time I read about a wagering requirement, I was terribly confused. How could I possibly make $1500 in wagers if I only have $50 to start with?
The answer is simple enough, when you think about it:
You only have to place that amount in bets. You don’t have to LOSE those amounts.
If you start with $50, you might win $100 on a $3 spin of the slot machine reels. That $3 counts toward your $1500, even though you won $100 on it. You now have $147, but you only need to make another $1497 in wagers to meet your wagering requirements.
They also have a final restriction:
You can win no more and no less than $100 using the free chip. This means if you have any winnings at all after meeting your playthrough requirement, you can cash out for $100.
You can calculate the value of that no deposit bonus fairly easily. You just multiply the wagering requirements by the house edge for the game you’re playing to estimate your expected loss. Subtract that from the $50 you have to start with, and that’s what your no deposit bonus is really worth.
I’ll assume for the sake of argument that this casino has reasonably loose slot machines with a house edge of only 6%.
6% of $1500 is $90, which is more than the $50 you started with.
In some rare instances, you might get lucky and have a winning streak. These are games of chance, after all.
But in the long run, the casino isn’t risking any real money with this kind of promotion.
Why Don’t Casinos Count Wagers on Blackjack toward Fulfilling Your Wagering Requirements?
Did you notice the list of games that didn’t count toward the wagering requirement?
Some of these make more sense immediately than others.
Blackjack, obviously, is the most obvious game to forbid from counting toward wagering requirements. The house edge for the game is low enough that a smart player who’s mastered basic strategy might be able to turn that free $50 into some winnings.
Let’s say you have a really good blackjack game. Most online casinos do. The house edge, if you play with perfect basic strategy, on this game is only 0.5%.
On $1500, the predicted loss with a 0.5% house edge is only $7.50. On $3000, it’s still only a predicted loss of $15.
In either case, the $50 turns into a profitable situation for the player.
But what about a game like roulette?
The house edge for roulette is 5.26%.
You couldn’t possibly profit from that kind of situation, could you?
Here’s the thing about roulette, though. Even though the Martingale System doesn’t work in the long run, in the short term, it can increase your probability of walking away a small winner.
A lot of online casinos have really low betting limits. If you’re able to start with $5 bets, you stand an okay chance of coming out a little bit ahead after using the Martingale repeatedly.
Then you can take the money you have left, bet it all on black, and have a 47.37% probability of doubling your money.
The casinos offering these kinds of bonuses are doing everything in their power to make sure you don’t walk away with a profit after taking advantage of these offers.
How Free Casino Games and Their Relation to No Deposit Casino Bonuses
I mentioned earlier that a no deposit casino bonus and a free casino game aren’t the same things, even though they have the same goals:
The goal is always to get a depositor to start gambling at the casino.
With a no deposit bonus, you have a small probability of making a tiny profit from the casino.
With free casino games, that probability doesn’t exist. It’s 0.
Does this mean that no deposit bonuses are more valuable than just playing the free games?
Are they a LOT more valuable?
But the free casino games do offer you the opportunity to try the casino’s software and games almost without restriction and without risk. You can then make a decision about whether to play there based on whether you’ll like the games there.
At most casinos, the progressive slot machines are unavailable in a free play version, but that’s usually the only restriction.
When you’re playing game using a no deposit bonus, on the other hand, the games you’re allowed to play are severely restricted—at least if you want a chance at eventually cashing out some money. And that is the whole point to the no deposit bonus, right?
This doesn’t mean the casino makes those games unavailable. You can get a free $50 chip at the casino and play blackjack with it if you want to.
It’s just that you’ll invalidate your bonus and won’t be able to cash out.
In fact, the casinos LOVE it when you play a game on the restricted list. They have a monetary interest in making sure you’re not able to cash out with profits in this situation.
If you just want to try a lot of the games, stick with the free casino games.
If you want to take a shot at winning some money, go ahead and try the no deposit bonus. Just educate yourself about the restrictions and take your best shot. Don’t screw up and blow your chance at some free money by playing one of the restricted games and follow up by saying, “Duh! I didn’t know.”
You Can Get Free Money from Casinos that Require You to Deposit, Too
I’ve assumed until this point that you already know how a normal casino bonus works, but maybe you’re new to all of this.
Most casinos require you to deposit money before getting any kind of deposit bonus.
But a deposit bonus is a kind of free money, too.
And you can get a lot more of that free money by taking advantage of the deposit bonus. These bonuses come with restrictions, too. The casinos still don’t want to give away money.
Most regular casino deposit bonuses match the size of your deposit with a certain percentage. They also have a dollar limit on such bonuses.
Here’s an example:
The same casino that offers the $50 free chip offers a 100% deposit bonus of up to $1000 on your first deposit. This means you deposit $1000, input your bonus code, and voila! You have $2000 in your account.
But wagering requirements apply to this kind of offer, too, and they’re not much different from the wagering requirements for a no deposit bonus.
This bonus has a 10X max cashout, which means that you’re not allowed to cash out for more than $20,000 when taking advantage of this bonus.
Other than that, the same 30X and 60X wagering requirements apply, although they’re based on the total amount of your deposit plus bonus.
This means if you stick with slots, you must wager $60,000 before cashing out. Your expected loss on that kind of action is $3600 (at least), so your $2000 is toast unless you hit a big jackpot.
There was a time when it was easy to take advantage of these kinds of casino bonuses and make a profit, but the casinos caught on and plugged these loopholes.
How to Best Take Advantage of Any Kind of Online Casino Signup Bonus
The first step to taking advantage of any kind of online casino signup bonus is to read the terms and conditions thoroughly. If there’s something in the terms you don’t understand, ask customer service beforehand. Take a screenshot of the customer service agent’s answer, too, just in case you need it later.
I think the best approach is to go ahead and play the slot machines, but play the highest denomination slot machine games you can. The house edge is a long-term phenomenon, so your goal needs to be to hit a big jackpot early in your gambling career at that casino. In other words, you want to have a short-term win which bucks the odds.
When and if you do hit the big jackpot, it’s time to start making smaller bets. At this point, you want to do everything you can to try to get close to the expectation.
Here’s an example from my own gambling career:
A few years ago, I won a $6000 jackpot on a slot machine I wouldn’t normally play. I think I was betting $15 per spin. After all, I’d made a deposit and gotten a big deposit bonus.
At that point, I needed to do my best to make sure I didn’t lose all that $6000. So I scaled way back to the lowest denomination slot machine I could play.
I lost $4000 of that $6000, but I still had a profit of $2000.
If I’d gambled $15 per spin, I’d have had a good chance of the pendulum swinging the other direction and having a big losing streak.
By playing the lower denomination slots after the big win, I got closer to the expected loss—which was what I wanted, since I already had my profits.
This strategy only works when you get lucky and hit a jackpot early, by the way. The odds are still against you, no matter what you do.
Your goal is to buck the odds and avoid losing the money when you start getting closer to the long run.
An Example of a No Deposit Bonus and Whether It’s Worth It
Here’s another example of a no deposit bonus:
Sign up for an account at Casino ABC and get a $25 bonus, no deposit required.
Here are the terms, though:
You can ONLY play slots or keno without invalidating the bonus. You must wager the bonus 30X before cashing out. And the maximum amount you can cash out is $25.
That’s $750 you must make in wagers. If the house edge is 6%, you can expect to lose $45, which, of course, is more money than you have.
And even if you get lucky and hit a couple of jackpots, you can’t cash out more than $25.
Is it worth it?
I think so, sure—if you like playing slots. After all, you should easily be able to clear the wagering requirements in an hour or so. You probably won’t have anything left, but you did spend that hour playing slots, which is fun.
If you do win $25, that’s a $25 payday for less than an hour’s work. That’s not a bad deal, especially since playing slot machines can hardly be considered work.
The only reason it might not be worth it is if you hate playing slots. And if you hate slots, you probably hate keno, too.
The only downside?
You’re on the casino’s list of customers now, so you can expect them to start marketing to you.
No deposit casino bonuses are a thing, now, and they’re not going away until they stop working as an effective marketing tool for the online casinos.
They might seem like a no-brainer and a great deal at first glance, but they’re not as great as you might think. After all, you’re selling your information to the casino so that they can market to you.
And you’re selling it at a cut-rate price, at that.
I have a final suggestion:
Take advantage of as many of these kinds of offers as you like, but when you do, create a specific email address for each account using a free email provider like Gmail.
You’ll learn really fast how aggressively the casino markets to you.
You’ll also figure out whether the casino is selling your email address to other operations, because that should be the only place you use that email.
You won’t get rich from no deposit casinos. In fact, you probably won’t make any money at all.
But it’s still fun to try, especially if you like slot machine games.