With the worldwide online gambling market predicted to be worth almost $60 billion by the year 2020, this is clearly an industry where someone somewhere is making a lot of money. And with the rapid and ongoing proliferation of online gambling sites, whether it’s casino games, sports betting, bingo or poker, it’s clear that betting online isn’t going away.
When the first online casino sites started appearing in the late 1990s, not even the most optimistic industry observers could have predicted such rapid increases in participation rates (in the UK, for instance, online gambling is now the largest sector of the gambling industry). But as we take more and more of our lives online, the potential for further growth in the sector remains unlimited.
But where does this leave you, the player? Is there really money to be made from online gambling? And is it worth the risk?
No-one in their right mind would suggest for a second that gambling online isn’t a risky business, especially for the uninitiated. And there is a clear distinction between games of pure chance and those that require skill, experience and some knowledge, like poker and sports betting. But there are nevertheless chances to make money from online gambling, depending on your appetite for risk.
Because the online casino industry is so competitive, operators vie with each other to attract new players and work hard to retain their existing ones. One of the most popular ways of doing this is through offering free bonuses to new players as an inducement. These sorts of bonuses take many forms, this article goes into more depth – but if you’re prepared to look around there are a selection of deals to be found, see this updated selection of the best bonus deals for ’18 to begin with – that essentially let you play (for a short time, at least) with the casino’s money.
The majority of online casinos will give new players a signup bonus that consists of a match on your first deposit i.e., you deposit $200 and they give you another $200 on top, doubling your bankroll. Increasingly, online casino operators are combining these sorts of deals with free spin offers, so that as well as getting a bonus in the form of cash, you also get a set number of spins on an online slot for free. No deposit bonuses can also be found, where you get awarded a small number of free spins on an online slot just for registering for an account — you don’t have to make a deposit to play.
Sports betting sites too offer new players these sorts of deals to entice you to bet with them over another sportsbook. These will either be matched free bet offers, enhanced odds deals (sometimes called odds boost) or, increasingly matched deposit bonuses like you get in an online casino.
With a matched free bet deal, when you sign up and make a first bet, the sports book matches this by giving you an additional free bet of the same value e.g., bet $20 and you get a free $20 bet on top. In some cases, you’ll get more than your original bet e.g., bet $10 and get $40 in free bets. There will, however, be some restrictions on your first bet in terms of odds, and there will likely be limits on your free bets too.
Other sports books give new players enhanced odds deals as an incentive. For instance, the odds on the favorite to win a particular match might be 1-1, but the enhanced odds deal gives you 4-1. In this case, the size of the bet you can make will be limited and if you win you’ll get the ‘real’ price portion of your winnings in cash and the ‘enhanced’ portion in bonus bets.
You also get similar signup offers at online poker sites and bingo rooms as well.
So, are these bonuses really free? Well, yes and no. Sure, if you claim a deposit match bonus your bankroll gets a healthy boost and you’re playing with more money than you put into your account yourself. Or you get can get a bigger payout when you win from an enhanced odds offer. But you do need to read the fine print, especially when it comes to wagering requirements.
Wagering requirements (also known as the playthrough, or the rollover in sports betting terminology) is the amount you have to wager before you can cash out any of the bonus money you were given or the winnings you make from it. This is usually expressed as a multiple and the industry standard for online casinos is around 40x e.g., if you pick up a $200 signup bonus, you need to wager $8,000 before you can withdraw that bonus or any cash you make when you play with it. In the case of a free spins bonus, you’ll find that the amount you can win from these will be capped (usually in the region of $100) and subject to wagering requirements as well. If you receive a no deposit bonus, once you make a deposit you can continue playing with any cash you won from the bonus, but there will be a playthrough attached to this as well.
In the end, even with a free bonus, there is always risk as you have to bet a set amount before you can reap the full benefits of the bonus. During this time, of course, you can lose the lot. So, while free bonuses can give you good value and let you play with the casino’s cash, they are definitely not without risk. Like any form on online gambling, there is always the chance that you can come out with nothing.
Matched betting is an increasingly popular way to try to take advantage of the bonus offers you get from online sportsbooks. As far as online gambling goes, it is actually relatively risk free, but it does take some time and effort to be successful, so if you want matched betting to work, you need to set time aside and devote some energy to it.
Essentially matched betting involves you taking up free bet or deposit bonus offers from online sports books, and then betting on the same event with that online bookmaker and on a betting exchange at the same time, so that you cover both outcomes e.g., if you bet on a team to win in the sportsbook, you bet on that same team to lose in the exchange.
In simple terms, the aim is for your betting exchange bet, where you can ‘lay’ or bet on an even not occurring, to cover your sports book bet, which is being made with the bonus bet or from your deposit match bonus. In short, you are covering all the bases so that with any outcome on an event, you make a profit.
Although matched betting is largely risk-free, don’t expect to make a fortune overnight and it won’t bring you in a passive income. The returns are modest and so you can expect to make money incrementally rather than from one big win. You also have to put the hard yards in. This means signing up for the right sort of bonus deals on a regular basis, reading the fine print to get a handle on the rollover, and putting the time in to find the right ‘lay’ bets on betting exchanges. However, the process can be made easier by using a matched betting calculator that will indicate the amount you should bet given the odds on a particular event. It still takes time and energy though, so you do need to have an interest in sports betting if you really want to stay engaged over an extended period of time.
The other area of online gambling where you can look to make money is in skill-based games like poker. However, there are a number of caveats here.
First of all, you need to be good. Sure, there is luck involved too (who hasn’t been slaughtered by the river card?), but ongoing and lasting success playing poker takes more than this. And learning the game costs money. When you’re starting off, you’ll make a lot of mistakes and take a lot of heavy beats. Poker is different to other online casino games because you’re not playing against a random number generator — you’re playing against other human beings and so how well you do can depend to a large extent on how good they are.
It’s also true that the online poker scene isn’t what it was during its heyday. This means there simply isn’t the money around in cash games (also known as ring games) as there once was. There are plenty of tournaments available, even for newbies, but again these aren’t going to make you rich overnight. And no matter how good a player you are, you’re always at risk of that last card going against you. So, while the biggest names in online poker do make money — a lot of it — they have also lost plenty along the way.
And like matched betting, you can’t derive a passive income from online poker. You need to spend long hours grinding away, both when you’re learning the game and where you’re at the stage where you can expect to make money. So, unless you’re prepared to dedicate yourself to the game 24/7, you’ll probably need a side hustle as well.
Can you make money from online gambling? Yes. Is it risk free? No.
Even matched betting, which is the most risk-free form of online gambling, is not without challenges posed by rollover requirements, which can see your money tied up with a sports book for an extended period of time. You can take advantage of free bonus offers from casinos and sports books, but in order to meet the wagering requirements, you have to keep betting and there is naturally an inherent risk there. As for online poker, although you can have big wins, you’re also likely to take plenty of losses along the way too.
So, if making some easy money is what you’re after, then by all means take your chances with online gambling. But if you want to avoid risk, or don’t want to devote your whole life to it, then in the long run avoiding online casinos and sports books is probably the best bet you can make.