The Wizard of Odds website recently published an article in their online casino section titled, “Guide to No-Deposit Bonuses”. The article not only goes into detail on the actual value of these online casino incentives, it also illustrates some of the best ways to use them and points out that some are probably not worth the effort at all.

In the early days of online casinos it was possible to make an easy living, or at least supplement your income by simply accepting any bonus offered, playing the games, and cashing out when wagering requirements were met. The wagering requirements were minuscule by today’s standards. It was an exciting time with new pop-ups coming on the scene at a rapid pace like corner food trucks hoping to make their marks and open neighborhood restaurants, already established as cult classics.

Sadly those days are gone, and many blame advantage players – bonus hunters, or if you prefer, bonus whores, for ruining it for the rest of the playing public. There is no evidence to support that claim and the casinos that survived would have figured it out in good time anyway in the regular course of business; it would have simply taken a little longer.

Casinos today, including the survivors of the golden days, offer “free money” to get players in the virtual doors in the hope that they will enjoy the games, customer service, banking facilities, and other elements they have established to set them apart from the rest of the pack. That “pack” probably numbers in the thousands today. They all want a chance to form an adversarially friendly relationship with you and your money. You, of course, want to have fun and enjoy yourself while you take as much money from them as you can as well.

The author of the article points out some very important things to consider before accepting a no deposit bonus (NDB, free chip). There will be a minimum and maximum amount you will be able to withdraw; taking the bonus might disqualify you from a match bonus offer that may be more valuable, and most will require you to make some sort of verification deposit of real money before you can cash out your free winnings. Each offer will be slightly different, and as a general rule, all bonus terms and conditions should be read and understood before activating any offer.

There are entire bulletin boards and forums devoted to NDB, and some people basically live on those websites enjoying their hobbies. LCB has a fairly active sub-forum devoted to these offers and it’s updated daily with color-coded tags that let visitors know if the offer is for new sign-ups, depositors only, or “everybody”.

The author of the Guide links directly to a dynamic table on the Wizard’s Top Online Casino Bonuses page – which players can use to sort a variety of bonus offers. The No Deposit tab ranks 7 casino NDBs from best to last with offers ranging from $10 to $50 and max cash outs up to $170 for players who follow the exclusive links. Click the link to the “in depth guide” on that page to return to the Guide.

In the Guide, 10 casinos’ NDBs are meticulously broken down and examined, explained, and rated. Most of the exposés are the length of a standard web page or news article and the author doesn’t waste words or blow smoke. Specific terms and conditions for each offer/casino are illustrated and examined, pitfalls and opportunities are exposed, expectations are calculated, and conclusions are reached.

While the maths used are solid and the expectations illustrated are correct assuming a generic 5% house edge for slots with an unknown RTP (theoretical return to player percentage), we have to take exception for a moment with the whole concept of ever trying to apply the same methods used to determine the expected bonus value on near zero-variance games like blackjack or perfect play JoB video poker to something as volatile as a slot machine played by an individual – regardless of the house edge at any fair casino. We also suggest a singular alternate strategy, within each casino’s terms and conditions, to take advantage of any NDB. However, as none of the NDB out there today are worth much more than $100 by themselves (more on that later) there is nothing inherently wrong with any of the suggested strategies or games and they will provide the highest possible theoretical return if followed. But we don’t play slots to ride the mean or get eaten alive by the house edge – we play them because they are volatile and unpredictable, we play slots to win and win big.

If you plan to play blackjack or video poker with a no deposit bonus, and you have anything better to do, or could be working for minimum wage or volunteering your services somewhere and writing it off your taxes – expect to lose money even if you beat the bonus and cash out the max value. The play through requirements are simply too high and you will sit there for a virtual eternity before you clear them. Playing in fun mode for an hour and spending the rest of the day(s) earning money to gamble would offer a better chance of winning something worthwhile. The maths are written in stone and with max bet limits and a max cash out,  perfect play will net the “average gambler” just what the analyses state, give or take the slight variance introduced by luck and a specific time frame.

If you play slots there is really only one sane way to approach these offers, and that is insanely. We don’t suggest that you spend your precious time churning away at wagering requirements that are designed to make the average player lose before they finish, and will make you want to quit gambling forever if you hit a jackpot that’s only really worth $50 because you are gambling with “their money”. We suggest you go for the gusto – get in and get out, win or lose. If you lose, there’s always free play or “practice” mode which is what most NDB exercises end up as anyway.

Let’s look at one of the old-timers, one of the survivors of the bonus boom – iNetBet. You’ll need to adjust your strategy slightly for the other casinos but the basic premise remains the same.

iNetBet offers $10 free. You are allowed to bet up to 25% of the NDB on a single spin. Do it four times and see where you’re at. Then either damn the torpedoes at $2.50 a pop, drop to $1 spins or bet your balance less than $2.50 on a Hail Mary spin. Your initial wagering requirements are only 15x the bonus, to begin with, so when that effectively becomes less than 5x because you’ve tripled your money, grind it out as fun-play to say you “beat the bonus” or stick to your guns and go for a $50 cash out. When you’ve got a big enough balance that you can’t possibly complete wagering with less than $50, bet sanely again until the money is yours.

If you don’t get lucky on your first four or five spins you will lose. That’s okay, the Guide presents 10 casino offers so you will have 9 more chances. Go on to the next casino, register an account, and have another swing at it. If you got lucky early and managed a win do the same thing – move along to the next casino. We’ll come back to what to do with the “found money” in your iNetBet account later.

The point here is to execute in as little time as possible and either get back to gambling without a max cash out or get back to the rest of your life. There’s a decent chance that you will be able to cash out from at least one of the 10 casinos on a free chip.

Alternately you could play at the lowest possible bet on low variance slots and hope you have a few good wins to carry you through the wagering requirements. It all depends on your appetite for risk – but remember, a free chip is really the only time you can call it “their money”. You “buy” match bonuses by risking your own deposit not only on the games but on the bonus itself if you don’t make wagering.

The true value in a no deposit bonus is that you can leverage the winnings from a successful offer. Take your new-found cash and claim iNetBet’s 200% Sunday Sticky. Yes, there are a few hurdles like time travel to overcome but money value is like energy, it is not created or destroyed, only transferred. You could tap your gambling budget for as much as you won and replace it when you collect your NDB winnings, however.

If you deposit $50 and the casino gives you $100 more to play with the whole landscape looks a little different now. The new bonus will have its own terms – Slots only even after making the play through, 20x wagering, max bet 25% of deposit. But there is no max cash out. You are now in the running for a Random Jackpot. Better yet, you can go a little crazy and try some new things. Chances are that if you do $0.20 spins the house edge will gobble up your whole bankroll before you complete the obligatory 15,000 spins needed to make the money yours again. Even so, it beats playing in fun mode and you could hit a random jackpot. So either way, your journey was worth the effort.

But what if you decide to just go nuts? What if after every $5 worth of low wager spins you used the bonus money to do two $5 spins? What have you got to lose, your time? Your deposit? Bonus money? You will fail to make wagering more often than not, just as the bonus is designed to make happen. But each ‘bonus spin’ is 25x more likely to win a Random Jackpot and any good streak is likely to put you way over the top and in a position to coast into the cashier with wagering met and a nice cash-out.

There are many ways to look at bonuses, but if you are gambling responsibly, and you should be, there are ways to find true thrills out there – even if the journey starts with a humble $10 no deposit bonus. While no casinos today offer “gimme” bonuses, until they are all made completely worthless by max cash out limits or even more insane wagering requirements, these are still the good old days.