Bonus Bagging, also referred to as “Bonus Hunting”, is an advantage play technique used by professional gamblers to generate a profit from online casino promotions.
The aim is to “bag” as much of the bonus amount as possible by meeting the minimum playthrough requirements set by the Casino. An optimal strategy must be played on eligible games without breaching notoriously strict bonus terms & conditions.
Matched Betting is a risk-free form of Bonus Bagging for sports betting promotions. But to extract value from a Casino bonus calculated risks must be taken.
Do the rewards of Bonus Bagging make the risks worthwhile?
Casino Bonuses: An Overview
Casino bonuses are promotional offers that encourage players to sign up and deposit.
The Decline In Casino Bonuses
The earliest online Casinos offered extremely generous bonuses. They were so easy to exploit that players didn’t need to apply any form of advanced strategy for it to be profitable.
But after years of “abuse” from advantage players (who took no real interest outside of the bonuses offered), Casinos tightened up the terms of their promotions. Nowadays most bonuses offer little or no value to players — unless optimal playthrough strategies are used.
Strict Bonus Terms & Conditions
The biggest problem with modern Casino bonuses are their strict, complex terms & conditions. It’s the cause of countless disputes.
The terms & conditions of a promotion dictates elements such as:
- Which Casino games you’re allowed to play
- How much money needs to be wagered before a withdrawal is allowed
- The weighting each games counts towards the wagering requirement
- The maximum stake you’re allowed to place in one bet
- The order of the games you play
There’s usually other highly ambiguous terms, which state that the Casino is allowed to identify bonus abuse “at their discretion”. These terms don’t always stand up in disputes, but they’re still a hindrance.
Furthermore, the Casino software itself doesn’t stop players from making ‘mistakes’. It doesn’t enforce the bonus restrictions. It’s down to the player to check their every move against the terms & conditions.
Casinos are resigned that their bonuses will be abused. Their solution to the problem is to lure in customers with bonuses which look great on the surface, but require them to jump through several hoops to make a withdrawal.
I fail to see how any genuine customer could enjoy playing under the restrictive Casino bonus schemes currently on offer. An average gambler flits between their favourites games without giving it much thought. Yet it’s those same (genuine) players who stand to be punished by the strict T&C’s.
I can only assume that, despite the complications and disputes bonuses create, they also help to generate a lot of profitable player acquisitions for online Casinos.
Players that manage to complete the wagering requirement without breaching any terms (or busting out) will be able to withdraw their funds.
Each bonus type is dealt with differently upon withdrawal. Here’s the three main types:
- Non Withdrawable. The bonus value is subtracted from your withdrawal, and removed from your account. Only winnings from your bonus remain.
- Withdrawable. The bonus is included in the cashout. This is more profitable, of course.
- Sticky. The bonus amount is non-withdrawable, but it remains in your betting account. You may be to produce additional withdrawable winnings using the bonus (until you inevitably bust it out).
Withdrawals are often a substantial size when Bonus Bagging. This is due to the betting strategies used.
Example Bonus Terms & Conditions
The way you play your Bonus Bagging strategy is determined by the wagering requirements, and various other terms & conditions attached to the bonus. Here’s a typical example of a Casino promotion you would find online:
100% match on your first deposit up to a maximum of $200. Deposit $200 and receive an additional $200.
After your first deposit, the total account balance would be $400.
I’ve picked out and summarised the main terms & conditions that might apply to a typical bonus like this. It takes some work to dig through the fine print, but it’s absolutely necessary.
- Bonus eligibility: 7 days from the date the new account was opened
- Minimum deposit: $10
- Wagering requirement: 50x bonus
- Games which don’t count towards the wagering requirement: Roulette, Sic Bo, Craps, Baccarat, Table Poker, Casino War & Red Dog
- Games which do count towards the wagering requirement:
- 100% All Slots, Keno & Scratch Card games
- 8% All table pokers, all roulettes, all video/power Pokers, all blackjacks (excluding Classic Blackjack), and Casino War
- 2% Classic Blackjacks, All Aces video pokers, all Jacks or Better video pokers
- 0% all baccarats, all craps, Red Dog, Sic Bo, bets using the gamble feature & wagers placed using the gamble feature.
- Time limit to complete wagering: 2 months
- Playing on any 0% games may void winnings, at the Casino’s discretion.
- Before any withdrawals are processed, your play will be reviewed for any irregular playing patterns[…]
- Other examples of irregular game play include but are not limited to, placing single bets equal to or in excess of 30% or more of the value of the bonus credited to your account […]
- The Casino reserves the right to decide in its sole discretion which activities constitute “irregular play” and to withhold any withdrawals where irregular play has occurred to meet playthrough Requirements.
- In the event that the Casino believes you are abusing or attempting to abuse a bonus or other promotion, or you are likely to benefit through abuse or lack of good faith from a gambling policy, the Casino may at its sole discretion, deny, withhold or withdraw from you any bonus or promotion, or rescind any policy either temporarily or permanently, or terminate your access to the Services and/or block your account.
Ambiguous terms are the root of many player/casino disputes. I don’t think they should be allowed by the gambling regulators. Yet even the most reputable Casinos include terms like these as standard.
Bonus Bagging Services
A Bonus Hunter has to somehow get through Casino promotions without being accused of breaching any of the tricky terms and conditions.
The only route I’d recommend is using a reputable Matched Betting Service. They hand pick the “safest” Casino bonuses, analyse the terms & conditions, and detail the exact strategy to use.
I can also recommend EV Maximiser, a specialist Bonus Bagging course put together by Mike Cruickshank. Check out my Betting Mastermind review to learn more.
These services will save you time and effort. They also have helpful staff and large member communities that’ll give you pointers along the way — which reduces your chance of making mistakes or miscalculations.
The “Two Tier” Strategy
For any Casino bonus to be worth taking it needs to have a positive expected value (known as “+EV”). Most Casino promotions are not +EV unless they are played through using a “two-tier” staking strategy.
The two-tier strategy involves betting big to begin with in order to reach a “target” balance, followed by reducing the bet size to coast out the remainder of the wagering requirement.
By two-tiering a Casino bonus advantage players will bust out of their balance, losing their entire deposit and bonus, the majority of the time. But, mathematically at least, successful attempts will outweigh losses in the long-run.
Needless to say: Bonus Bagging requires risk tolerance. It’s not a risk-free strategy like sports arbitrage. It’s more like value betting which, with the right strategy, is plus EV — but variance impacts the actual results.
Note: not all Casino promotions require a two tier strategy. Each bonus has to be assessed on an individual basis.
Selecting the Right Games
Before two-tiering, you need to decide what games to play. Your game choices depend on the house edge of the eligible games. You have to work out what’s most economical.
The 50x bonus wagering requirement from the example bonus can, theoretically, be completed using the Slots, Keno and Scratchcard games — which all count 100% towards the wagering requirement. This means that on a $200 bonus, a total of $10,000 must be rolled over for the player to become eligible for a withdrawal.
The alternative is to use another category — such as ‘table games’, which features games with a much lower house edge (e.g. Blackjack, or French Roulette). The trade-off is that the wagering requirement is enormous, as these games only count 8%. Players need to rollover $125,000 to make a withdrawal using only table games.
There’s a simplified way of calculating the best games to play: multiply a game’s house edge by the wagering requirement. This gives an approximate expected loss after wagering through the bonus.
Let’s compare two popular options: slots and table games.
Slots vs Table Games
- Slots have very high house edge (~2-15%). This means the expected loss during the rollover will be high — but it counts for 100%.
- Table games have a low house edge (~0.5%). This means the expected loss during the roller is relatively low — but it counts for 8% only.
Suppose a Blackjack table game has a house edge of 0.5%, and a Slot game has a house edge of 5%. Here’s the comparison:
- Slots: 5% x $10,000 (WR) = -$500 expected loss
- Blackjack: 0.5% x $125,000 (WR) = -$625 expected loss
So, despite the higher house edge, the slots game has the lower expected loss thanks to the (much lower) $10,000 wagering requirement. Therefore this is the better option of the two, mathematically speaking.
Similar comparisons can be made between any eligible Casino games. Every Casino game needs to be assessed independently. Not all Slots, or types of Blackjack (for example) have the same house edge on every Casino platform. Game rules vary, too.
Learn more about Casino house edges from The Wizard of Odds and The Pogg (great for info on slots).
Two Tiering Example
By now you’ve probably realised that the expected loss of the example bonus is very high.
However, applying the two-tier betting strategy improves the situation. Here’s how it’s done.
1. Set A Target Balance
The advantage player needs to place high variance (large) bets to quickly reach a target balance, before switching to (lower) normal variance bets to complete the remaining wagering requirement. The higher the target, the more EV is “bagged” from the bonus.
For instance, the player could set a 4x (deposit + bonus) target — which is neither too high that it rarely ever comes off, or too low that it offers no value.
The simplest way to reach that 4x target is to place the entire balance ($400) on a game with a 25% chance of winning (which pays 4x). For example, covering 1/4 of the numbers on an eligible Roulette table. However, some T&C’s will not allow for this, and the bettor would need to place a series of large, high-variance bets on eligible games to hit their target, or bust out.
2. Target or Bust?
Assuming the $400 bet on Roulette is allowed, and the player decides to wager through the requirement using slots once the 4x target is reached, there’s two scenarios:
- Bust out: -$400 (-$200 of their own money). Game over.
- Reached the 4x target: $1,600 (+$800 of their own)
- After wagering on slots: $1,600 (balance) – $500 (expected loss) – $200 (deposit)= +$900
Therefore the advantage player either loses $200 of their own deposit, OR wagers through the bonus with an expected profit of $900 ($1,100 total balance) to withdraw.
So is this bonus really +EV?
If the bonus enables players to raise their balance in a series of large bets, then yes. Here’s the expected results if you were to claim this same bonus four times, using the same strategy:
This equates to approximately: (-$200 -$200 -$200 +$900) / 4 = $75 expected value (EV).
In extreme cases you could win all four, or lose all four. Variance is all part of the game.
With a lower target balance, the EV goes down, as does the chance of busting out. But be warned: for many of today’s Casino promotions a low 2x target isn’t enough to make the promotion +EV. So substantial risks must be taken.
Points to Consider
- Some bonus terms will not permit you to bet your whole balance in one hit. For illustrative purposes, I chose to simplify the two-tiering example. In practice, a smaller series of bets on high-variance games (using slots, for example) may be required to hit the target balance.
- The higher your target, the higher the EV. But the more chance there is of busting out. Your bankroll needs to be large enough to cope with consecutive losses.
- While meeting your target balance, you’ll notch off some of the wagering requirement. That’s a positive thing, which I did not factor into my (simplified) calculations.
- While you try to reach the target balance, you’re betting against the house edge (which I also did not factor into the example). This slightly cuts into the profit. Hence why you want to bust, or hit the target, in as few bets as possible.
- Many Casinos stipulate that you cannot drop your average bet size by a certain percentage (e.g. 30%). So you won’t always be able to reduce the variance to within your comfort zone.
And if you do successfully reach your target balance and complete the wagering requirements, you’re not out of the woods yet…
Remember those ambiguous terms I highlighted earlier?
Well, Casinos tend to save those terms for players that successfully use the two-tiering strategy to wager through a bonus and request a withdrawal.
There’s a vast amount of disputes which arise from players being accused of using “betting patterns”. Many Casinos (particularly those outside of the UK), do their utmost to avoid paying customers at the best of times. Problems are extrapolated when a bonus is involved.
Delaying tactics, unreasonable identification requests, unfair accusations, and account locks/closures are commonplace. Many players are forced to take legal action.
Is Bonus Bagging Worth The Hassle?
There are pros and cons to Bonus Bagging. Here’s my honest take on it.
Bonus Bagging is profitable, albeit with potential grief.
It’s mathematically sound. Plus there’s also more than one type of Casino bonus; some are a little more generous than the one featured in my example.
I’m also aware that there’s pro gamblers that have found other, more imaginative (usually higher variance) ways to circumvent strict Casino bonus wagering systems and avoid withdrawal issues.
Bonus Bagging is burdened by obstacles. Casinos evidently do their utmost to deter players that only seek to earn a profit by claiming their bonuses.
The process is time consuming, tedious, and risky; one failed withdrawal could wipe out a lot of winnings.
I’d focus on Matched Betting and keep away from online Casinos; Sportsbooks aren’t anywhere near as defensive. This is largely because they manage their risk by adjusting their prices, balancing their books, and maintaining a market overround.
Perhaps venture into the simplest entry-level Casino bonuses (e.g. free spins). Beyond that — proceed with caution.
There’s certainly easier, less risky, and more fulfilling ways to earn from betting than Casino Bonus Bagging.
Originally posted on 19th December 2016.
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