A “risk-free” bet comes in all shapes and sizes, and while they’re good for most of our purposes, “risk-free” bets offered by legal mobile sportsbooks are not exactly risk free. Despite the generic term “risk-free” bet, some are better than others, and this usually comes down to how a losing wager will be refunded.
Let this page be your guide to navigating through how risk-free bets can differ, which are the best and how to tell which is best for you.
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How do ‘risk-free’ bets work?
Many online sportsbooks offer so-called risk-free bets as sign-up promotions. In fact, they are the most popular welcome bonus offer in the US market. Basically, they are first-time sportsbook bonus offers to give to new customers. Place a bet and win it, congratulations. You won. The end. Place a bet and lose? The sportsbook will give you your money back in the form of site credit, or a “free bet”, or “bonus cash” to be used for wagers at the sportsbook. The amount of the free bet(s) will (usually) be equivalent to the amount of your first wager at the sportsbook.
Risk free bets come in all different amounts, usually ranging from around $100 all the way up to a massive $2021 on William Hill in select states. (There are, of course, varying terms and conditions. We’ll get to those later.)
Let’s use FanDuel Sportsbook as an example. FanDuel has offered a $1000 first-time risk-free bet to new customers.
You sign up for an account, make a deposit, and now on your first bet you can bet whatever you like with the knowledge any amount up to $1000 will be credited back to you — in the form of site credit — should you lose.
So let’s say you take the Cowboys -6.5 points at home at -110. You deposit and wager $500. The Cowboys win, 27-10. Congratulations! You just netted $454.50, and your account will show that plus your original $500 wager, for a total of $954.50.
But … if the Cowboys meander around for three hours and escape with a 24-21 win on a last second field goal and don’t cover, then you lost your $500. The risk-free part? You’ll get $500 back in the form of site credit that plays the same as cash, but needs to be wagered 1x through in order to convert the credit to cash.
Do you get your stake back on a free bet?
Simply put, it depends on which site you are betting on and how they refund the bets. Let’s take a closer look.
When you bet on a site that refunds in site credit (FanDuel and Barstool) you will receive site credit. Site credit plays the same as cash, so you can bet any denomination you want, and you will win the stake plus the profit as opposed to free bets that only pay profit.
So, for example, if you look around at the NFL slate decide the Eagles are going to easily win and you take them -3.5 at -110 for the full $500 in site credit from the example above, and they win 30-7, then you will be paid out $954 ($500 bet + $454 profit). If you used a site that paid out their refund in a one time free bet, you would only win the $454 profit.
There are however some sites that will refund your bet in fully withdraw-able cash, and those are the only sites that make this a truly risk-free bet.
So, to be clear: most risk-free bets are not risk free. If you lose the first cash bet and lose the second “bonus” bet, you will lose your entire stake. Some sportsbooks give you site credit in lieu of a free bet if you lose. These are better, as then you can wager as little or as much as you like of the site credit on a number of bets instead of being forced into a second wager equal to the first. Another plus is that winning bets with site credit pay both the stake and the profit, meaning you can turn a profit instead of just trying to get most of your money back with a one time free bet.
It’s a nice offer – really, one chance to win, one chance to get your money back if you lose – but it doesn’t hold a candle to so-called “match” bonuses, where sportsbooks will “match” your deposit in bonus money. For example, SugarHouse will match, dollar for dollar, your first deposit up to a certain maximum. It’s real, cash money, but you have to “bet through” it in order to withdraw it. An offer like that is truly “risk-free.”
Risk-free bet example
Let’s take one straight from the top.
You just signed up to Unibet and deposit $250. You plan on betting it all on the Rockets -7 at -110. If you win, you’ll now have $477.25 (the original $250 bet plus the $227.25 in winnings) in your account, all of it available for withdrawal, or to begin using as your bankroll.
But if you lose? You’ll have $0 in your account and a $250 free bet to use. This free bet cannot be converted into cash.
Next night, you take the Pelicans +5 at -110. If you win your bet, your account will show $227.25. You do not get the $250 stake from the “free bet” back as you would in the scenario where you won and ended up with $477.25. So by losing the Rockets bet then winning the Pelicans bet, in this scenario, you end up down $22.75 from your original deposit.
But if you lose the second, “free,” bet? Then your account will show $0, and you’ll be forever troubled by anything that claims to be “risk-free” for the remainder of your life.
‘Risk-free’ bet strategy
The only way to “beat” these offers and guarantee yourself a true risk free profit is to scour the lines at competing sportsbooks and hope to find an arbitrage situation where you can bet both sides of a wager — and guarantee that you’ll come out ahead.
These are tough to come by, but if you keep your eyes open, you might find another sportsbook offering a special “booster” or “odds boost” on a game that you can take advantage of.
For instance: Let’s say you’re a new customer of BetMGM, and you’re waiting to place your first bet. You’re also shopping around other sportsbooks for “booster” bets, and you come across a site that is “boosting” the 76ers moneyline spread game against the Magic. Instead of being -200 moneyline favorites (where the Sixers are at most books), the “boost” is making the 76ers +150 to win. Well, over at BetMGM, the Magic are also at +150 to win. So you bet your $500 on the Magic at +150 at BetMGM, and then bet $500 on the Sixers at the boosted +150 odds. Now you’re in true-risk free territory.
If the Magic win? Congrats! You just banked $250, as the +150 bet netted you a tidy $750 profit at this sportsbook. Of course, you lost the $500 Sixers bet at the other sportsbook, but that’s what made this risk-free. Overall, you couldn’t lose.
And an even better scenario is if the Sixers win. That happens, you still net the $250, but since the Magic lost, now you also get a free $500 bet.
Issues with the above scenario? Well, for one, you have to be alert and scan the other sportsbooks for deals. Second, oftentimes these “boosts” come with lower limits, so you might not be able to get the entirety of your bet down. Of course you may find arbitrage opportunities separate from odds boosts, without lower limits, but the upside may not be as great. Just remember, if you’re truly looking for a risk-free way to guarantee a profit – and maybe net you a free bet – arbitrage is the only way to go.
Of course, maybe you’d like to embrace the risk, and go bananas with your first bet. That’s one way to play it, by placing a big parlay with the $500 and hoping to jumpstart your bankroll, knowing that if you lose, you’ll have a chance to recoup the $500 with a second, more reasonable wager.
Or you can play it “safe” and find the shortest odds allowable for your free bet, and take it (hopefully) to the bank. For instance, at BetAmerica, qualifying wagers for their welcome promotion can’t be more favorable than -250. Meaning, the first bet can be -250, -150, +150, +1000 … etc. But it can’t be -260, -300, -400, etc.
So the “safest” bet would be to find a -250 favorite and let your free bet – at FanDuel, the maximum is $1,000 – ride. If you win a $1,000 bet at -250, you’ll profit $400, your balance will be $1,400, all of it withdrawable. If you lose … then you’ll have $1,000 in site credit that you must use in order to withdraw any money.
Another way to play it? Try to find a side you really don’t like and risk the vig in an effort to acquire a free bet. To explain: Let’s say you really hate the Bears giving 6 points to the Eagles. The Bears are -6 at -110 at the site you’ve just joined that is offering the risk-free bet, and you can get the Eagles +6 at -110 on a competing site. You bet $500 at both sites, and if you’re right and the Bears lose, you’ll lose the vig – in this case, $45.50 – but you’ll gain the $500 free bet.
If you’re wrong, and the Bears cover? Then you’re out $45.50 without the free bet.
Risk-free bet Terms & Conditions to look out for
Online sportsbooks offer varying T&Cs for their risk-free bet offers, so it’s important to pay attention to the fine print before committing your cash to the cause. Bonus site credit and free bets do have expiration dates, and if you dont use em, you lose em. Here are a few examples of terms you may encounter which popular sites have required for past offers:
- FanDuel Sportsbook: In the past, FanDuel hasn’t put any restrictions on odds for its bonus offer. Additionally, if you lose, you will receive your site credit and can use it in any denomination, meaning you won’t have to bet it all on a single game. FanDuels site credit also plays like cash, meaning you get the stake and profit on winning bets.
- BetMGM Sportsbook: BetMGM gives you 10 free bets in 20% increments if you lose instead of one bet. For instance: If you bet $500 and lose, you’ll get 5 $100 bets. Bet $100 and lose, you’ll get 5 $20 bets.
- 888sport: The initial bet must be a single wager, not a parlay, although there does not appear to be an odds limit (meaning it appears you can bet a -1000 favorite if you like). Like MGM, if you lose, you get 10 free bets in 10% increments if you lose instead of one bet.
- BetAmerica: Requires wagers at prices of no more than -250 (-260, -270, etc. won’t count) for single bets and -200 for parlays. If you lose, instead of getting back the “free bet” in one chunk, it will be applied as bonus dollars, meaning you can bet a few bucks at a time instead of the whole thing once.
- PointsBet: In an effort to entice players to try its PointsBetting system, it has traditionally split its risk-free bet into one regular bet, and another only meant for PointsBetting.