Online poker rooms will give you FREE money - aka a "poker bonus" to play poker online.
You read that right.
FREE money to play poker. In some cases, even, with no strings attached and no deposit required. Even with some playing requirements before you can collect your full poker bonus, that free money can reach into the THOUSANDS of dollars.
We can imagine the question you're asking yourself right now: Why? Why would they do that? Would would a poker bonus be a thing that exists in the world at all? Here's why.
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Best Poker Bonus = Best Player Pool
In an ongoing mission to bring in new players, online poker sites invented the concept of a “poker bonus" over 20 years ago.
Back in the day, when online poker money was flowing as freely as wine in a Roman palace, poker bonus money was handed out like it was going out of style. Poker sites were literally fighting over who could offer the most eye-popping dollar figure.
Not only that, given how big in value they were, savvy poker players could literally chase poker bonuses all day, everyday (dubbed, unfortunately "bonus whoring") and pump their bankroll up by hundreds of dollars over and over again.
If it sounds too good to be true, it's because it actually was. Once the massive influx of new money from the poker boom dwindled restrictions and conditions on poker bonuses increased.
You'll still get free money deposited into your online poker account. But you'll have to work a little harder these days to see it.
Still: a poker bonus is VERY real money. And it's very much worth your while to take advantage of it anytime you sign up and create a new account at a poker site.
So why do poker sites give them out? The answer is actually pretty simple. Even though they give you free money to get started, over the long run the math says they will ultimately make more money off of having a bigger player pool.
You'll all play more games, pay more fees and, ultimately, create a bigger player pool and prizes that draw in even more players to play. As the old saying goes, "you have to spend money to make money," and that holds true for poker sites.
Best Poker Bonus = Essential Tool for Bankroll Building
If you’re just starting out and only want to invest a very small amount of money, getting the best poker bonus you can is crucial to building your bankroll. But online poker bonuses are incredibly varied so it’s important to do your research before signing up because that bonus will help carry you though any downswings.
What Kinds of Poker Bonuses Can I Get?
Poker bonuses typically come in a few common types:
- Free Instant Bonus (No-Deposit Bonus)
- First-Deposit Match Bonus
- Reload Bonus
- Free Tournament Tickets
- Freeroll Entries
- Cash Back
- Loyalty Bonus
What’s An Instant (No-Deposit) Poker Bonus?
Some online poker sites go straight for the flashiest poker bonus they can offer - the instant, free cash poker bonus with no actual deposit required.
Instead of offering a percentage match of your deposit and making you play some real-money poker to claim it, they’ll provide you with an instant cash bonus upon signing up. These are typically split between:
- Free cash in your account
- Free tickets to tournaments
- Free spins on a jackpot wheel
- Free bets or spins at the casino/sportsbook
Let's be clear though - the straight cash portion of these tend to be pretty small (in the $1-$10 range). But that IS real money they'll put in your account for you to play with.
The larger portion of the free instant bonus is usually in the form of the tournament tickets (eg. 5 x $1 tickets to a certain type of Sit 'n Go) or free spins in the casino.
You won't be able to withdraw the money but you can use this for play - which is really as simple as it sounds.
Is the No-Deposit Poker Bonus Worth It?
Absolutely. If you don’t plan on playing a lot of poker hands to access the full deposit match bonus, then the instant payoff is a nice perk. While you won’t get a huge amount of cash it’s definitely better than nothing.
What is a Deposit Match Bonus?
This is the most frequent poker bonus you'll encounter and virtually all poker sites will offer this to new players. In short, you make a deposit (anywhere from $20 to, say $1,000) and the poker site will match that deposit.
A common poker bonus, for example, would be 100% match up to $500. That means if you deposit $300 for instance, the online poker site will award you another $300 if you play enough hands on the site.
Sound amazing? It is. That bonus will then be released to you in increments of $5 or $10 as you play poker on the site. But it won't take a particularly long time to release it all.
What Is a Reload Bonus?
A reload bonus is a match bonus offered from time to time for making a new deposit at an online poker site. Reload bonus offers can be tied to your rewards program status (ie you'll get a certain match rate according to your level of points) or just generally offered to all players.
Bonus clearing conditions are usually the same as for the original sign-up bonus.
What is a Poker Bonus Code?
A poker bonus code is simply a series of letters or numbers to enter when you create your poker account or make a new deposit.
For example the universal poker bonus code for your sign-up bonus at PokerStars is "STARS600." There will be a poker bonus code entry field that pops up when you make a deposit; simply enter your code there.
Where do you find a poker bonus code? For new sign-up bonuses you'll find all the best poker bonus codes right in our review pages. Click the download link and enter the bonus code when you register and it'll be awarded to your account.
How Do I Unlock My Poker Bonus?
Here’s the secret about poker bonuses and the reason that online poker sites are able to offer them: They take a bit of work to unlock. It wouldn’t make financial sense for online poker sites to offer bonuses that players could immediately cash in on and then withdraw right away in free money.
Instead most online poker sites require you "unlock" the bonus. Unlocking a bonus is done by playing a certain amount of real-money poker hands. It doesn’t matter if you win, lose or break even -- as long as you’re playing a decent volume of real-money hands, you should be able to unlock your bonus easily.
Online poker sites slowly make back their money by fees per hand or tournament, which is a small percentage taken out of most pots that see a flop or from the total tournament entry fee. As you play hands, that fee slowly accumulates and at a certain point the bonus is unlocked.
Be warned, though: the bigger the bonus the site offers, the more hands you will have to play to unlock the bonus.
What’s the Best Poker Bonus?
The answer to this question is different for every player. Are you a high-volume player? Do you prefer tournaments or cash games? Do you play very infrequently?
These are all questions you need to ask yourself before opening an account at an online poker site.
If you love playing massive amounts of poker every month than you’ll want to go for the big, burly, hard-to-unlock deposit match bonus.
If you’re more of a weekend warrior you’ll likely want to aim for something a little more achievable or just go straight for the biggest instant no-deposit bonus.
Should I Always Go for the Biggest Poker Bonus?
Not necessarily. While big bonuses are always tempting they can be very difficult to unlock. In other words that 100% deposit match for $800 might not be the best idea.
On the other hand some bonuses are unlocked piece-by-piece so that even if you never get to the end of the bonus you will still have picked up a decent amount of free cash.
Instead of thinking of bonuses as just one big amount of cash, it’s better think about them as getting a certain percentage of cash back from your games for a certain amount of time.
Which leads us to our next point …
Do Online Poker Bonuses Expire?
Almost certainly. Most online poker sites offer you a short 30-day or two-month period in which you can unlock your bonus. Therefore it certainly pays to fire off a bunch of hands as soon as you sign up.
We’ve heard of players signing up for sites and then immediately playing thousands of hands just to unlock their bonus. While that’s not necessarily for everyone, it’s definitely a good idea to try and put in some serious volume right after signing up.
Don’t worry too much about playing poorly if you’re just learning the game and proper poker strategy because you’re getting a bit of cash back to make up for it from the bonus.
It’s actually a fantastic way to learn poker because a real-life casino would never give you a discount when you’re just starting out.