Free Bets and Betting Offers
Betting has been around for more than a century, and by virtue of that fact so have bookmakers. Today, in an industry that generates profits in the region of seven billion pounds, it's little surprise to learn that the number of bookies both on the high street and online is growing.
The demand for new customers in this ultra-competitive mini economy happily works in the favour of us: the humble punter. Bookmakers are falling over themselves to get us to register a new player account with them, and such golden carrots that they dangle in front of our faces include free bets and sign up offers. It is with these that we can make hay while the sun shines.
Introductory Betting Offers
Below you'll find a list of bonuses, free bets and other incentives that the bookies offer you in exchange for signing up. The sharp eyed among you may have noticed we list more than ten here, so we should point out that whilst this list includes bookmakers and betting sites who didn't make it into our top 10, they're still all reputable and safe places to bet, and all licensed in the UK.
For obvious reasons we don't list as many betting offers as some other sites. The reason for this is quite simple - we've chosen to limit the number of betting sites covered and only list the absolute very best. If you're looking for more bonuses, we also maintain a bigger list of offers on betsites.co.uk - a sister site aimed more at comparing data rather than detailed analysis and reviews.
The Battle for New Ground
Each individual new punter is worth plenty to a bookmaker, hence why they are so lucrative with their sign up bonuses. If you see things like 100% deposit match up to £200 don't be put off thinking that it must be too good to be true; it isn't, this is a genuine hook to get you on board.
So what's the catch, you might be thinking. Well, in truth, there isn't really one, as long as you familiarise yourself with the various wagering requirements and caveats attached to bonus funds and free bet offers - of which we'll discuss in more depth in this article.
But each punter could be worth thousands to a bookmaker across their lifetime, and when you multiply that by an ever-growing customer base it is not hard to see why bookies are worth making millions of pounds in revenue each year.
So, that's why they need you. What's in it for you though?
Sign Up, Sign Up
The headline here is that you will benefit from taking up a sign up offer. Whether it's a percentage deposit match, a combination of free bets or an outstanding betting selection at ludicrously enhanced odds, the bookmakers have their way of luring new players in.
And that's the key point here: you have to be completely new to the site upon signing up to take advantage. If you had opened an account with a specific bookmaker in the past, but never actually placed any bets with them, then the chances are that your free bet/bonus funds have now disappeared into the ether. Sorry about that.
Some bookmakers, but not all it must be said, place as much emphasis on retaining customers as they do attracting new ones: they know, as a rule, human beings don't like change. If we find something we like, i.e. like a specific's bookmakers' website, then the likelihood is that we will stick with them through thick and thin - hence why they are happy to run these sign up offers at a loss.
Types of Free Bet/Bonus
There are three different types of golden greeting from a bookmaker upon registering for a new player account, and these are commonly referred to as free bets (no deposit bonus) and deposit bonuses.
Quite simply, these offer you a set sum for placing your first bet of a certain denomination. For example, if you bet £10 with William Hill as your first act then they will hand you £20 in freebies. Paddy Power go one better (maybe that should be ten better?) by handing new players £30 when their first wager is worth £10. Many other examples of this kind of new player offer exist to boot.
The premise behind this one is simple: your chosen bookie will hand you a percentage - which is usually 50% or 100% - of your first deposit completely free up to a certain amount, even as high as £200. This kind of offer is becoming less widespread, but is still well worth a look where available.
What You Need to Know
As with most good things in life, there are caveats that just slightly take the edge off the goodness. You must be aware of these, from a betting perspective, to ensure that you don't get caught up in the classic trap that bookmakers set.
This is the first schoolboy mistake that many erstwhile new punters make when blinded by a 'Free Bet/Free Money' style welcome offer. These are usually, but not always, governed by 'wagering requirements', which are essentially the hoops you need to jump through in order to get your hands on any winnings created via bonus funds.
This will usually be displayed as x3 or x8 etc, and denotes the number of times you will need to 'play through' your deposit/bonus amount prior to being able to withdraw any money to your bank account. Here's an example:
The terms of your sign up offer are that if you deposit £10, then you will get £10 as a free bet, and so your bonus total equals £20. If the wagering requirements in place with this particular bookmaker are x3, then you will need to have settled stakes of 360 or more before any winnings are yours. And, crucially, there are usually time limits in place to achieve this magic mark, which can range from 30-90 days.
So yeah, that may have changed your philosophy on free bets somewhat. But hey, this is the free money at the end of the day, so even if you don't meet the wagering requirements in time then you haven't loss anything, technically. And don't forget you can use any winnings you generate from your free bet towards the play through requirement, which might just make all the difference.
Unfortunately, the terms and conditions for most sign up bonuses don't just stop there. They are a canny bunch are bookmakers, and they realise that smart punters will use their bonus funds to wager on a 'dead cert' and get their accounts up and running nicely.
Hence why many have put in place a minimum odds requirement when placing free bets. So, if we take a bookies offer at random, we can note from their T&C's that we must have at least one selection at odds of 1/2 or greater in our bets to count towards the wagering requirements.
Hopefully you're not too perturbed at the thought of finding a 1/2 winner, and this tends to be the industry standard price: you might find 2/5 as the minimum elsewhere, and Evens at the stingiest of bookmakers, so make sure you check the terms & conditions of each particular bookmaker before making your decision on signing up.
Stake Returned... Or Not?
Here's another little loophole that a bookmaker can utilise. Some will take away your free bet stake when doling out winnings, while others will leave it intact.
So, traditionally if you placed £10 at odds of 5/1 you would be handed £60 back: £50 in clear winnings and £10 as your stake return. In the case of free bets and bonuses, your stake will be taken away from you - so do factor this into any wagers you place with free funds.
Free Bet Restrictions
This can vary wildly from bookmaker to bookmaker, and so the takeaway point here is that you should always check the T&C's before deploying your free bet to ensure you aren't in for a big surprise!
Typically though, all 'result' markets in football and indeed across the sporting spectrum, with the likes of Both Teams to Score and Over/Under Goals also catered for. For horse racing punters wishing to place an each way flutter with their free funds, note only the win part counts towards the bonus. Also, US racing and Totepool wagers are also exempt.
Finally, it is worth noting that the second bet in a specific market does not count towards your wagering requirements. So if you have used your freebie to back Arsenal to beat Chelsea, and the score is 0-0 after an hour and you fancy betting on the Blues, the Chelsea wager won't count towards your play through limit but the Arsenal part will.
Bonus Bans: How Not to Play It
As with all good things in life, there are people who simply don't know where to draw the line and ruin for everyone. These bonus abusers will take advantage of bookmakers' generosity by claiming multiple freebies using false details to get around the 'one per household rule, or by creating arbitrage markets in win-loss events, e.g. betting on Player A in a tennis match with one set of free bets and wagering on Player B with another.
Bonus abuse is taken very seriously in the business, and there are horror stories of genuine punters having their winnings taken away from them after being accused of the dastardly act, despite in many cases being wholly innocent. The penalties are severe too, so it is perhaps best not to tread the line with any T&C's then, and simply wager in the most straightforward manner possible.
Of course, matched betting is completely legal, so if this is a route you plan to go down then you generally have carte blanche to do so.