The year ending March 2018 was another stellar one for the remote gambling industry, which saw its gross gaming yield (GGY) increase by a whopping 13.7% to £5.4 billion.
This achievement is even more incredible given the scrutiny that the marketplace has been under in recent times, particularly in terms of player safeguarding and the promotion of misleading ‘free bet’ offers.
In fact, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation into free bet promotions back in 2016, and earlier this year they announced their findings whilst compelling operators to remove many of the restrictions surrounding these wagers.
While this has driven significant change in the industry, it’s still fair to surmise that not all free bets have been created equal and it’s your duty as a punter to appraise the value of each individual offer before making a commitment. We’ll have more on this below, along with some advice on how to evaluate these promotions.
One of the main concerns raised by the CMA during its investigation was the terms and conditions surrounding free bets, which often contradicted the headline offer and forced players to wager considerable amount of money before withdrawing their winnings.
These restrictions are known as wagering requirements, and while operators are now compelled to advertise these clearly to punters they still have a direct impact on the value of any given free bet.
In simple terms, wagering requirements refer to the amount of your own money that you’ll need to stake in order to release any winnings accrued by a free bet. Typically, the bonus itself cannot be withdrawn or cashed out, but the same rule also applies to earnings until you’ve completed the wagering requirements laid out in the T&Cs.
If you’re awarded a £10 free bet or cash bonus with a 10-times wagering requirement, for example, you’ll need to stake a total of £100 of your own cash before any winnings can be withdrawn. This clearly changes the value proposition of a free bet offer or promotion, even in instances where restrictions are being simplified and clarified to punters.
Another aggravating factor of free bets is that operators can leverage them to steer punters into restricted or less profitable markets, which can undermine both your chances of winning and the value of the wager.
For example, the free bet in question may only be deployed in one or a restricted range of markets, or in some instances a carefully selected game. At the same time, the type of wager that you’re entitled to place may also be restricted, which in turn impacts on the potential returns that you’re able to pursue.
Let’s say that you’ve been presented with a £10 free wager from Sky Bet. Upon further inspection, we see that this bet could only be used on a single or each-way market, but as a punter you want to apply this to an upcoming football match between Manchester City and Crystal Palace in the Premier League.
Without the option of handicap betting or wagering on City to win by a specific margin, your choices are restricted to backing the Blues at prohibitive odds of 2/13 or taking a punt on Palace to prevail at a hefty 20/1.
In the first instance, you’ll only achieve a negligible return that is far lower than the advertised value of the free bet. In the second instance, you’ll be forced to back an extremely unlikely outcome and most likely see your free bet disappear into thin air!
Another area of concern is the so-called ‘risk-free’ wager, which is typically made available to customers after they lose their first bet placed with the operator (up to a certain amount, of course).
In essence, this wager is marketed as delivering your money back in the event of a failed bet, and punters usually become eligible for this when they register for an account. However, there’s an obvious requirement for you to stake your own money in order to qualify for the bet, while once again you’ll have to wager more than the value of the promotion before you can withdraw any winnings.
This certainly casts doubt on the relevance of the term ‘free bet’, while there’s also a considerable element of risk as you’ll be required to stake your own money both before and after placing the wager if you’re to realise its value.
Even in instances where you lose your first £10 bet and are rewarded with £10 free wager, you may find that your initial punt is restricted in terms of the available markets and the required odds.
This means that operators can once again guide you into unprofitable markets, whilst compelling you to bet on high odds that reduce your chances of winning.
By the time these bets have been placed and you’re rolled over the bonus amount according to the wagering requirements, you may find that you’ve lost more than you’d have ever won through the promotional offer.
While operators are undoubtedly making strides to improve their free bet offerings and comply with the new regulations, many of these issues remain and there’s often a significant gap between perception and reality when leveraging complimentary wagers.
Fortunately, you can mitigate your risk by understand the nature of the market and reading the T&Cs associated with any given offer, while also keeping the following points in mind:
As we’ve already said, a £10 free bet is not necessarily worth this amount, and as a punter you’ll need to estimate the value of each restriction and its potential impact on future returns.
Let’s say that an operator has offered you a huge free bet worth £250, for example. However, this wager is then broken down into different stages, as you’re required to place incremental bets of £50 in order to have these matched by the bookie in question.
Not only this, but you’re also required to place a rising number of £50 bets in order to qualify for the incremental reward, creating a scenario in which you have to lay down 20 individual wagers in order to claim the full value of the £250.
Now imagine a scenario where these bets are unsuccessful. In this instance, you’ll have staked £1000 just to receive a £250 ‘free’ wager, and this represents bad business by anybody’s standards.
Throw in minimum odds requirements of 1.5 per wager, and you have a poor value proposition that should be considered with genuine caution.
You should also factor in the impact of each bet’s wagering requirements, especially those that compel you to bet the initial stake amount 40 or 50 times before withdrawing any earnings. These can also undermine the value of any free bet offer, especially if further restrictions concerning odds and markets are also in place.
Ultimately, you may need to eschew higher value free bets for those that are simplistic and boast the least stringent T&Cs, while those with wagering requirements of 10-times should also be given priority.
Are there Payment Method Restrictions?
When reviewing a Sky Bet offer recently, we noticed that the £10 free bet was not available through some payment methods. In this instance, customers who used Moneybookers or Neteller could not qualify for the promotion, with this requirement included as part of the small print.
This is an important consideration, especially if you like to use an e-wallet of this type in order to minimise transaction fees and guarantee instant transactions.
You may also use these e-wallets as a way of segregating and managing your bankroll, while being to transfer cash to another payment option could incur unwanted charges that eat into your capital.
So, keep your eyes peeled for this type of small, but significant, detail, as otherwise, you may see the value of a free bet decline marginally due to an array of factors.
On a final true, read the T&Cs carefully to determine what (if any) restrictions are in place concerning the available markets and wagering types.
As a general rule, event-specific free bets such as those for the Grand National offer a wider range of restrictions, as they’ll have been tailored by operators in a way that minimises their potential losses.
Not only is this type of wager focused on a market that may be outside of your comfort zone as a sports bettor, for example, but typically you’ll only be able to place single or each-way wagers, making it harder to seek out real value through the offer.
In contrast, universal free bet offers enable you to wager on sports, markets and events in which you have considerable knowledge and experience, and this immediately affords you a distinct competitive edge.
At the same time, if you can identify wagers that offer some freedom in terms of how you stake your money (such as handicapping or accessing specific in-play markets that can improve your odds), you’ll achieve even greater value from the promotion.
After all, while this type of free bet may be lower in value than some, it affords you a far greater advantage in terms of probability and your potential return.