Sportsbook Bonuses — Demystifying The Terminology And How They Work

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You may have heard nothing in life is free, or not without strings attached, and that’s also true when it comes to sportsbook welcome bonuses and other legal sports betting player perks or incentives. 

New bettors and those playing at illegal offshore sportsbooks migrating to legal markets have the opportunity to take advantage of bonus offers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, IndianaIowa and Colorado, with Michigan, Illinois, Tennessee and many more states to come. Due to this, we want to bring some clarity to the popular bonus terminology.

It’s key to read the terms and conditions, know what you’ll be getting and how and when you’ll get it. Because no one likes unpleasant surprises. Good news is at our site reviews, we read the fine print and break down the bonuses and walk you through getting them.

Sportsbook bonus terminology and “free bets”

As a starting point — always, always read the terms and conditions when you see advertisements for promotional bonuses bets — many of which are advertised in parts of this website.

Some sportsbooks may limit what you can wager on with your promotional bets — possibly not allowing wagers on markets priced greater than -200. The language and terms differ slightly everywhere, so make sure to read it. Now let’s review the most common terms and phrases you’ll see and break them down.

1. “Risk-free bet”

This phrase generally refers to an offer where a new registrant makes a bet with the sportsbook for the first time, and if the bet loses, the player will be credited with a bonus bet corresponding to the amount of that first wager.

For example, if you wagered $200 on the Dodgers to beat the Diamondbacks, and the Dodgers lose, you’d get a site credit in the amount of $200. (If you won on Los Angeles, congratulations, that’s the end of it, so this is irrelevant.)

So, your bet is “risk-free” to the extent that your funds are not necessarily lost if the initial bet fails. But when you put the bonus bet(s) back in play, if you lose then, yes, your bet is lost. So not exactly risk free. That’s gambling, folks.    

Now suppose you have your $200 site credit after losing the initial wager, and you make a $200 even money (+100) bet with it and you win, you’ll get $200 into your account. You don’t get the $200 bonus bet stake in your account plus your $200 for the win — only the winnings. And at that point, if you wanted to withdraw and break even, you could.

FanDuel Sportsbook, PointsBet, DraftKings Sportsbook, FOX Bet have offered the most generous risk-free bets of up to $500. Others have offered smaller promos between $50 and $250.

Important note on refunds/site credit:

Each sportsbook issues its refunds or bonuses a bit differently. At FanDuel if you lose your risk-free bet, you  may get back “site credit,” which plays the same as cash. That is, when you make a wager using the site credit, if you win a bet with it, you will get the stake back and the profit.  Meanwhile at PointsBet, the refund will come as a free bet that can be broken down into smaller increments, but only pays the profit on a bet (i.e., you get the winnings on the bet, but not the stake).  And there are other sportsbooks where you won’t get to break down the “free bet” into smaller pieces — it’ll be a one-shot deal for whatever credit you have, which might be $20, $200 or $500. The best deal by far is the site credit.

2. “Free bet”

How is this different from the risk-free bet? The key is that the “free bet” lives separately from the player’s first wager.

DraftKings Sportsbook has offered this kind of bonus — a 100% free bet up to $500, where the amount of the free bet matches the amount of the player’s first wager.

So let’s say you deposit $500 after setting up a DK sportsbook account. You then bet $500 on the Warriors -5.5 to beat the Rockets.  You will then receive a bonus bet in your account for $500 (processing may take around 24 hours).

Regardless of whether you win or lose your Warriors bet, that $500 bonus bet will be available to you. So if you win your Warriors bet at -110, you’d have $954 in your account — the initial bet stake plus $454 win — as well as the $500 bonus bet.

Two important notes: You may be required to use the free bet within a certain time frame, possibly within 30 days of first wager that allowed you to earn the promotion. Second, when you put that free bet into play, you will collect only a win — not the $500 stake as well. So if you make another $500 bet at a -110 price, and you win, you’d come away with another $454 in that case, not $954.

3. “Matched deposit”

This one is most similar to the “free bet,” but comes with more flexibility.  Play SugarHouse has offered this kind of bonus — matching your bonus with a site credit of up to $250.

If you’re a new player and you deposit $250, Play SugarHouse will grant you a bonus bankroll of $250. You don’t have to plunk down the $250 on a single bet and there are no restrictions on the type of bet(s) you can make with the bonus credit, hence the added flexibility. If you deposit $10, you’ll get a site credit of $10, and if you deposit $250 or anything higher, you’d get $250 site credit.

Per the T&Cs according to the Play SugarHouse offer: Bettors needs to “activate and play through the bonus money within 30 days after being credited with the bonus money, otherwise it will expire.”

You may also see a match bonus referred to as a “first deposit bonus” or “registration bonus,” with the nature of the bonus operating in the same or similar fashion as the match.

4. “No deposit free bet”

This one truly is a free bet or about the closest thing to it, so long as players register for and obtain a “valid and verified” real-money account. I suppose the only downside is unwanted emails.

Once you’re registered, the sportsbook will credit your account with the stated bonus amount. Caesars’ Sportsbook has offered a $10 no-deposit free bet.

A few important additional terms associated with the offer Caesars has made:

  • You have seven days to use the free bet;

  • If a player claims another bonus offer during their registration process, they will be ineligible for the free bet offer;

  • The free bet bonus must be used in full, i.e., it cannot be divided into multiple bets. If the free bet is not used in full, the remaining free bet amount will be forfeited;

  • If the event the player wagered on results in a win, the player will receive the winnings from the wager, but not the free bet stake amount into their winnings. For example, a $10 free bet at -110 odds would return $9.10 ($19.10 – original $10 free bet stake = $9.10).

So it fundamentally works in the same was as “risk-free” bet or “free bet” described above, but you just don’t have to make a deposit to activate the bonus.

The Caesars offer terms do not stipulate any rollover requirement, meaning you should be able to withdraw any winnings ($9 or maybe you come away with $25 if you hit a parlay) once putting the bonus amount in play once. Other sportsbooks might require some rollover, explained below.

5. “Welcome bonus” or “new player bonus”

Offers using this language typically come with more strings attached than any of those referenced above, and is similar to the types of offers that offshore sportsbooks illegally accepting U.S. customers are offering. Basically, there’s a substantial “rollover” requirement involved here.

The New Jersey-licensed 888sport has offered one such promotion.

Let’s go to some key terms and conditions from the offer 888sport has made in the past:

The Welcome Bonus and winnings generated from the Welcome Bonus will be granted to the player in bonus funds and must be wagered such at least 6 times within 30 days from the date the Deposit is made.  

This means that if you deposit $500 and get a $500 welcome bonus, you must put $3,000 or 6 x $500 in play before you can withdraw any bonus money. Further:

Wagers must be placed on sports bets which have odds of -200 or higher. Parlay bets (a single bet that links together two or more individual wagers and is dependent on all of those wagers winning together) with combined odds -200 or higher will also count towards the wagering requirements.

They’re not going to make it super easy to capture the $500 bonus credit – by betting heavy favorites for example. Odds at -200 imply a 66.7% win probability.


If a player withdraws the amount deposited to qualify for the Welcome Bonus before all the wagering requirements are fulfilled, the Welcome Bonus and all related winnings will be forfeited by such player.

We reserve the right at our sole discretion to modify the terms and conditions of this Welcome Bonus offer at any time.

So, make sure you adhere to the term and conditions and know how much you’ve put into play. You can do that by tracking your bets on the sportsbook’s ledger and/or by keeping a spreadsheet.

Fortunately, 888sport is a legal, licensed, reputable sportsbook that has to answer to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. So you shouldn’t have any concern about them honoring their end of the bargain, which is not the case if you’re dealing with offshore operators.

Parting shots:  E-mail and chat with customer service representatives for help if you encounter any confusion about activating or obtaining your bonus. In our experience, sportsbooks have been responsive and helpful. And for the sixth time this article, read the terms and conditions and take a screenshot of them after registering.  

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