Welcome promotions are meat and drink to online casinos. Visit any one of them and you’ll be greeted with shrieking messages beseeching you to take advantage of some sort of bonus. Such promos are central to a casino’s modus operandi, not just because they attract new players, but because they make them lots of money.

In fact, many seem rather appealing at first glance, with their promises of 100% matches, bonus spins and other assorted incentives. But a closer look at these rambunctious ‘offers’ often reveal some eye-popping caveats, of which the most dastardly is the wagering or ‘play-through’ rule.

What is Wagering?

Wagering is an online casino’s dirty little secret that sits quietly behind the gaudy lettering and exclamation marks of just about every promotion. It’s basically a multiplier that signifies the amount of times you need to play through a bonus before any winnings arising from it, can be withdrawn.

Say for example you decide to take advantage of a welcome bonus that comprises a 100% match up to £300. You place a deposit of £300 and duly receive an extra £300 on top. However, a glance at the terms and conditions indicates that said bonus, including the deposit, is subject to wagering rules of x40.

In other words, you’ll need to play through you £600 forty times and then pray that you’ve still got something left over at the end. Unfortunately, that means £24,000 worth of bets before you can lay your hands on the deposit, bonus or any winnings arising from them. Suddenly this particular welcome package doesn’t seem that inviting.

That some online casinos don’t include deposit amounts in play-through rules is often of scant consolation. For many punters, the use of these tactics is tantamount to theft.

What Level of Wagering is Acceptable?

Online casinos inflict different levels of play-through rules on their customers. While it’s very unusual to find an operator with the audacity to demand wagering of more than 50, you’ll be hard pushed to find one that offers anything below 20. In fact, most usually lie in the range of 25 – 50 – Casumo for example has 30x.

The question of what constitutes an acceptable level of wagering is of course subjective – obviously the lower the better.

Word Salad

Wagering rules would of course be meaningless if there wasn’t a hook to reel in unsuspecting punters. For online casinos, this comes in the form of clever wordplay. Take our welcome package example – it’s the kind you’ll find on countless websites:

“100% match up to £300”

At first glance, the promo seems to indicate quite a sizeable reward for new customers. It does this by emphasising a maximum deposit limit of £300 as well as a willingness to double it with a ‘100% match’ Now, imagine it had a minimum limit of £10. How does it read when this figure is used instead?

“100% match from £10”

Not nearly as enticing. As with promotions in any industry, it’s the big numbers that count. Accordingly, this type of ambiguous language is used repeatedly and acts as the hook while the games represent the line and the wagering rules are the sinker.

Weighting and other Screw-Turners

Weighting is another nasty little provision that’s applied to promotions. Because games have different house edges, operators specify how much each type contributes towards wagering. Those which favour the house, such as slots, are almost always assigned 100% weighting.

However, certain table games like roulette, where players have a better chance of winning, will often only contribute 10% (or worse nothing at all) – this of course means just 10p goes towards play-through rates for every £1 staked.

Then you’ve got time limits. If you’ve been ensnared by a welcome bonus with wagering rules you’ll want to scour the T&Cs to see how long you’ve got to meet them.

In many cases, a fairly reasonable 30 day limit is applied although there are certain exceptions. Look out for tiered welcome promotions which often feature shorter periods for players to satisfy wagering rules.

Why do they do it?

So why do top online casino operators insist on applying wagering rules? Are they hell bent on cheating you? Well, no. They’re certainly hell bent on making a profit but it’s worth remembering that they do run a business. What’s more, the industry in which they operate is highly competitive.

To differentiate itself from competitors, an online casino will therefore try anything within the realms of legality to attract the attention of potential players. This is why pretty much every casino site header is dominated by bold welcome offers with their cunning wording.

The actual wagering requirements are put in place to minimise any losses and protect casinos from players who sign up and then disappear with the loot. Bonus abuse is also a big problem for operators – a typical example of this might be a player who seeks out a low volatility slot and then plays their matched bonus through.

With the remaining money, they then move to a high volatility game in an effort to win a larger sum. A seemingly innocuous activity you might think, but most casinos don’t really like this kind of behaviour. So to offset such risks, casinos put in place play-through rules.

How to deal with Wagering Rules

Operators are perfectly entitled to apply wagering rules to their bonuses and aren’t breaking any laws. But they are legally obliged to disclose these tactics in the terms and conditions. Whether you agree with them or not, read the small print first before parting with any cash.

It’s also worth remembering that you don’t have to sign up for a welcome bonus. In fact, millions of players forgo promotions altogether and focus expressly on pure casino gaming. Read our reviews of Casumo, Grand Ivy, bCasino, Genting Casino, Casimba and Dream Vegas, where we consider their wagering rules and other key factors.