Have you ever walked into a brick-and-mortar casino, and asked the staff there to give you free money to play their games with? If you have, it’s likely that they’ve laughed you out of the building. Gambling venues aren’t in the habit of letting people play without paying; even when they do, that privilege is usually reserved for very loyal customers who have spent a great deal of time and money already.

But that’s not the case on the Internet. Online casinos have a huge advantage over their land-based counterparts when it comes to passing out promotions and incentives to their players, and the best example is the bonus offer. Many sites offer huge bonuses for brand new players, then follow them up with more rewards for existing customers, meaning that there’s always a way to earn more free credits that can be used on real money games.

Exactly how these bonuses work can vary. Some require you to make a deposit, while others do not; some can be cashed out after you play enough, while others are only credits you can use in the casino, with any winnings being yours to keep. But regardless of the specifics, these offers are a great way to get way more play on your favourite casino games.

Types of Bonuses

When you take a look at an online gambling site, you will be inundated with offers promising you hundreds or even thousands of pounds in “free money” that you’ll be able to use to play some or all of the games in the casino. For new players, these promotions can be very confusing: there are big numbers everywhere, with every site claiming that their offers are the very best.

In reality, most of these promotions are fairly similar, falling into just a few different categories. The following are a few of the key terms you’ll need to know in order to understand what a bonus offer actually means, and what you’ll be getting if you accept it.

Matching: The majority of bonuses at Internet sites today use some sort of a matching scheme. For these offers, you will be given credits based on the amount you deposit into your account. For instance, a 100% match will award you £1 for every £1 that you put into your account. The most common of these is the first deposit bonus, a reward given to new players when they sign up for an account.

No Deposit: This is just what it sounds like: a reward that doesn’t require you to put money in your account in order to take advantage of it. While these tend to be smaller than matching promotions, and usually come with strings attached that limit how much you can win from them, they have the obvious advantage of not costing you anything to redeem, making them perfect for anyone who wants to try a site without any risk.

Reload: A reload offer is one that is offered to existing players in order to encourage them to make another deposit – in other words, to “reload” their account. Typically, these promotions aren’t quite as large as bonuses for new customers, but they still offer plenty of extra play, making them worthwhile if you were considering adding money to your account.

Cashable: A cashable offer is one in which the special funds you’ve been given can be withdrawn. You won’t be able to do so immediately – that would make no sense for the operator – but once you’ve completed the bonus requirements, any remaining money is yours to keep.

Sticky: In contrast to cashable rewards, sticky promotions are those that are non-cashable. In other words, while funds will be added to your casino account, they are somewhat illusory: the money can never be cashed out, and will disappear once the promotion is completed. However, these bonuses tend to be larger than cashable ones, and any winnings you earn while playing are still yours to keep.

Finding the Best Offers

Knowing the above terms is enough to give you some idea about how online gambling promotional offers tend to work. However, figuring out which of these rewards are best for you will depend on a number of factors, some of which require a little bit of research to uncover.

First, you’ll want to make sure you pick a bonus that works best for your budget. While a 100% match worth up to £2,000 might sound amazing, a smaller promotion that offers 200% with a maximum of £500 will be way better if you only plan to deposit £100 or so. This can be tricky sometimes, as you may have to decide between a sticky bonus that gives you a lot of money to play with, and a smaller cashable option at another site that is more likely to generate a profit for you.

The exact terms and conditions of each offer are very important, too. While there are a lot of factors to consider, one of the most important is understanding the playthrough requirement (or wagering requirement) of a given promotion. This tells you just how much you’ll have to play in order to “clear” the reward, and is usually expressed as a multiple of the deposit amount (or the combined deposit and promotional amount). Lower is better: a 20x requirement is much easier to complete than a 50x one, for instance.

Some bonuses only allow you to play certain games while you are using your promotional funds. This is rarely a problem if you’re playing slots or fruit machines – those games are included in virtually every offer – but some table games may be prohibited while you’re still clearing the promotion. In other cases, all games are allowed, but some will clear the bonus faster than others.

If all of this sounds a bit confusing, don’t worry: in all of our reviews and site guides, we’ve broken down the specifics of each offer so that you don’t have to do any heavy research to figure out what’s available from each operator. We won’t decide when promotion is best for you, but we’ll give you all the information you need to make an informed decision based on your needs, so that you can have the best Internet casino experience possible.