The generous poker bonuses available online can give you a significant edge. You can receive bonus funds for everything from your regular deposits to random draws during play. Additionally, if you refer people to your preferred poker sites, the casino will invariably reward you.
Most sites will also refund a lot of your rake expenditures if you remain loyal to them. It's a major bonus you will rarely if ever, see at live tables.
The Player's Guide to Poker Bonuses
This guide will cover the various bonuses available to table poker players, and also discuss how video poker players can take advantage of casino-wide bonuses. We'll discuss how to qualify for these bonuses and the average amount you can expect to receive, as well as the best way to use them.
Welcome and Deposit Bonuses
Whether you're playing at a casino or poker room, you are likely to encounter a matching bonus awarded to your deposits. The usual pattern is a large matching bonus for your initial deposit, with smaller bonuses awarded for ongoing deposits.
Welcome bonuses are usually more generous at casinos than they are at sites that specialize in table poker. These bonuses go as high as matching 500% of your funds at online casinos, while a more realistic expectation for a poker site is to match 50% to 150% of your initial bonus.
If you're planning to play video poker at a casino, check the terms and conditions carefully, as the casino may limit bonus fund use to slot machines only. There will also generally be a “playthrough requirement” of some amount of hands or wagers at both table and video poker. You will have to play through this amount of action before the bonus funds (or winnings from the bonus funds) become available. A typical structure for table poker sites is to portion out the bonus as you reach certain thresholds of raked hands played.
Ongoing deposit bonuses are smaller than any initial offering. 25% on each deposit is a reasonable expectation at online casinos. Sites that specialize in table poker are less likely to offer bonuses like this, but they tend to make up for it with rakeback bonuses and other offers.
Deposits offered after the first one will either have no playthrough requirements, or much smaller requirements than the welcome bonus. Some poker sites, such as Ignition, now offer an enhanced bonus for those who fund their accounts with Bitcoin deposits.
Player's Club Loyalty Tiers and Bonuses
As with land-based casinos, online casinos and poker rooms also have a “loyalty” or “VIP” club where you can accrue points and status as you play.
A typical structure for sites that focus on table poker is to give you a bundle of free play and site credits every time you reach a certain threshold of hands played. You can apply the credits toward tournament entry fees.
Online casinos tend to have more traditional tier programs similar to those seen at a brick-and-mortar casino. Each new level increases your standard bonus amounts (such as reload and weekly), adds or increases a birthday bonus, and speeds up or removes fees on withdrawals.
Challenges / Missions / Achievements
Table poker sites sometimes offer “challenges” or “missions” that grant a bonus once achieved. These tasks can be as simple as playing a particular type of game or playing a certain amount of hands at certain stakes. The prizes usually consist of bonus funds or free entries to tournaments with significant cash prizes.
No Deposit Bonuses
The “no deposit” bonus is in contrast to the typical deposit-matching welcome bonus. This type is given to anyone who creates an account, even if the player never makes an initial deposit.
Of course, there are some catches. At an online casino, the no deposit bonus often consists of free spins that can't be used at video poker. If they can be utilized at video poker, there's usually a further wagering requirement before you are allowed to withdraw any funds won from the free spins.
The no deposit bonuses at online poker rooms usually consist of a small amount of credit ($10-25) after you create your account. These usually have a wagering requirement, but if the poker site also offers other casino games, make sure the amount isn't split between different types of games. For example, Party Poker offers a $25 no deposit bonus to all new players, but you can only wager $10 of that at the poker tables. Another $10 is for their slot machines (and has a 1x playthrough wagering requirement), and the last $5 is reserved for play in specific tournaments.
Splash Pot Promotions
Poker sites that hold “splash pot promotions” will periodically add some money to the pot of a random table. It is free bonus money funded by the house, given to the winner of the pot (along with the average winnings).
During these promotions, the casino selects random tables, but the amounts splashed into the pot may or may not be fixed. When the amounts are also randomized, you'll sometimes see the casino keep a list of possible bonus amounts, and cross entries off that list as they are splashed onto tables.
A “freeroll” tournament is one where players do not have to put up any of their own money to enter, but the top performers will win some cash prizes. Casino sites commonly fund these through their loyalty programs. As you play real money hands, you earn points, and then you can cash these points in for freeroll tournament entries. Sometimes freerolls are completely free to enter, however. The prizes for these true freerolls are usually small; about $500 in cash or less, but some offer the winners free entry to larger, more lucrative tournaments.
A poker table can grant a high-hand bonus if a player has one of the strongest possible hands—a four of a kind, straight flush or royal flush. If it is funded by an addition to the rake and grows over time, it is a progressive jackpot and not a bonus—since you're paying extra for it with every pot you win. However, it can be a significant temptation when the house funds it with no additional cost to players. If it's a fixed amount financed by the house, expect it to be about $25 to $100.
Bad Beat Bonuses
A “bad beat” occurs when a player with a strong hand ends up being beaten by a player with a much weaker hand, usually because of the turn and river cards. As a type of consolation prize, some poker rooms have a special bonus pot for times when the victim of the bad beat takes the lion's share.
As with the high-hand bonus, this may come in the form of a progressive jackpot, which the players fund with an added rake cost. Online casinos may offer a smaller fixed amount that they fund themselves, however, or may allow the player who suffered the bad beat to spin a wheel that contains small amounts of cash and minor prizes.
Pocket Aces / Aces Cracked Bonuses
You might see this “aces” bonus under a variety of other names, but the terms are always the same. If you're holding pocket aces, and you manage to lose the hand somehow, you get a bonus. In essence, it's a variant of the bad beat bonus, just for one particular condition. Players are also usually required to play through to the showdown to qualify.
The main difference is that you'll almost never see this bonus offered as a progressive jackpot. The poker room or casino usually funds it out of house money, offering $25 to $100 to players who lose while holding pocket aces.
Refer a friend, get a bonus. With many poker rooms and online casinos, it's that simple. They usually offer the option of either forwarding a special invitational email to your contact or give you a unique referral URL that you can post on websites and forums. Keep in mind that anyone you refer will need to meet wagering requirements before you receive the bonus.
If you're playing table poker at a site that also has casino games, and handles the two through separate apps—such as 888 or Ignition—check the terms of initial bonuses carefully to see if they apply to both apps or if there is a unique promotion for each area.
If you intend to use your welcome bonus at video poker, run the numbers to see what your expected return is once you've met the wagering requirement. If the bonus amount doesn't cover a reasonable, expected loss, then the promotion probably isn't worth it. Welcome bonuses at table poker are usually a lot more straightforward, as you were likely to play the requisite amount of raked hands anyway if you enjoy the action at that site.
When it comes to no deposit bonuses, check to see if accepting the promotion freezes all of your withdrawals until you meet wagering requirements, or just prevents you from withdrawing winnings that came directly from the bonus. If it's the latter, it's always worth taking a shot with some free spins in the event you hit a sizable jackpot. If not, you could be crippling your ability to withdraw winnings from your regular play.