Welcome bonuses are a tried and true means for online poker sites to entice players to sign up, make deposits and hit the tables. After the first poker site issued a deposit bonus, all the rest had to follow suit or risk being left in the dust. That brings us to today where nearly every poker site on the planet offers a real money deposit bonus for new customers.
The extremely competitive nature of the online poker business has been a great thing for players. You could easily visit 50 different poker sites over the next year, claim a deposit bonus at each one and you still would have just barely scratched the surface. There are just that many bonuses out there. As great a thing as that is, the one catch is that not all bonuses are equal. Some offer significantly more value to the player than others.
With that in mind, we present our list of the best poker bonuses. Each is ranked according to its value, ease of clearing and the trustworthiness of the site behind the offer.
How Poker Bonuses Work
The basic idea behind the typical poker bonus is that you sign up for an account at a poker site and make a deposit. In return, the poker site adds extra money to your account. So if you deposit, say, £100 and get a £100 bonus, you would have a total bankroll of £200. In this example, your first deposit has been doubled.
The biggest poker bonuses tend to be reserved for new customers, but many poker sites also offer the occasional reload bonus that is open to everyone. With reload bonuses, all you have to do is make a deposit and the cash is yours. These come in handy if you’ve been considering topping up your account or would like to grow a larger bankroll more quickly.
In most cases, the amount of bonus money you receive is tied to the size of your first deposit. Whenever you see an advertisement to the effect of “get a 100% bonus up to £500,” that percentage is telling you how much money you can get based on the size of your deposit. If they are offering a 100% bonus, that means your first deposit will be doubled. Likewise, a 50% bonus means you’ll get an extra 50% (i.e. deposit £100 to get £50 extra).
Poker bonuses also come with upper limits on how much extra cash you can receive. If the offer is 100% up to £100, they’re telling you that you’ll get an extra 100% on any amount for up to £100 extra. You can still deposit as much as you want in this example, but the amount you’ll get in additional bonus funds is capped at £100.
Clearing Poker Bonuses
If you claim your first poker bonus without reading the terms and conditions, you may be surprised to find that the bonus cash is not immediately available in your account. Instead, the bonus money is labeled as “pending” until you meet certain requirements. This is completely normal.
Clearing requirements are a necessary evil as online poker sites want to make sure you’re actually there to play poker, not to claim a bonus and run. In other words, they want you to play in real money cash games and tournaments until you have played the minimum number of hands necessary to release the cash.
The particular details vary from one poker site to the next, but it always comes down to you participating in real money games in order to release the bonus money. Bonuses are often set up to release in small chunks every time you earn X number of frequent player points (which are awarded for playing in cash games and tournaments).
Clearing requirements provide the poker site with two additional benefits. First, by encouraging you to play in real money games, it helps the poker site keep the tables active and more attractive to other players. Very few people are interested in joining a poker site if the tables are always empty.
Second, requiring you to play poker helps to offset the cost of the bonus. Whenever you win a hand in a cash game, you may notice that a small percentage of that pot is kept by the poker site as “rake.” Rake is how poker sites and real-world poker rooms earn money. On average, poker sites keep about 3% of every winning pot.
A small portion of poker tournament fees is also kept by the poker site for rake. If you enter a £10+£1 tournament, for example, only £10 goes to the prize pool. The poker site keeps the additional £1 as payment for hosting the tournament.
One thing to keep in mind here is that rake will always be a part of life unless you only play in private home games with your friends. Whether you play online or at a local casino, the people hosting the games need to earn an income, pay the bills and keep the employees happy. The rake is how they do that.
The best poker bonuses mitigate the cost of the rake and boost your winnings. If you are a winning player, a poker bonus pads your winnings and helps you grow the bankroll by an amount equal to the size of the entire bonus. If you are a losing player, a bonus will help offset your losses, which in turn gives you more experience at the tables and more time to hone your game. In any case, a poker bonus from a legitimate site is always a good deal for the player.
Fastest Way to Clear a Poker Bonus
There are two basic routes you can take to clear any bonus: by playing in cash games or by playing in tournaments. In our experience, participating in cash games has always led to us clearing poker bonuses the fastest. The reasons being that cash games move quickly, they run 24 hours a day and it’s easy to multi-table. You can rack up a ton of frequent player points by playing in cash games.
The tournament route tends to take longer because tournaments generate less rake per hour for the poker site and that results in it taking longer to earn the frequent player points necessary to release the bonus. If you think about it, you can buy in to one tournament for £10 and that’s all you’ll spend for the next four or five hours if you play well. During that time, you could play in hundreds of cash game hands.
However, it is even better to simply stick to the game type you know best. If tournaments are your bread and butter, stick with tournaments. A poker bonus doesn’t do much good if you force yourself to play an unfamiliar format and lose a bunch of money as you try to clear the bonus. If you’re comfortable with both formats, cash games are definitely the way to go.
Poker Bonus Codes
Some poker sites require you to input a specific “promo code” when you make a deposit in order to claim your bonus. If you forget to input the code, you get no bonus. An increasing number of sites are doing away with bonus codes altogether, but some do still insist that you have the latest code.
If you are signing up for an account or making a deposit and you see a blank field asking for your bonus/promo/referral code, there is a chance you’re at a poker site that requires a bonus code.
We should note that we keep up to date on all poker bonuses listed here. If we don’t list a bonus code, you don’t need it for that poker site. Sometimes you may see a bonus code field even though we do not mention a code on the offer listed here. That’s OK. In that case, you can leave the field blank and you will still receive your bonus.