If you’ve been around since the earlier days of online gambling, you may remember a time when new customer bonuses were chock-full of value. Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, you could earn thousands of pounds just by bouncing around from casino to casino collecting and clearing bonuses.
Online poker was my main gig back then and the poker bonuses back then were unbelievable. Party Poker, Empire Poker, Ultimate Bet and many other poker sites (many of which are now defunct) gave out so much money that it was a simple thing to build a sizable bankroll doing nothing but playing breakeven poker.
I’ve read many accounts from casino players who were around in those days and they say the situation was similar back then for them as well. In their case, they could claim casino bonuses, play smart blackjack to clear those bonuses and easily earn a few thousand in a good month.
Reality had to hit sooner or later, and it did. Those early bonuses were practically giving away money and it was not a sustainable business model for operators. The free money party began winding down as terms and conditions pages grew longer and longer. Bonuses didn’t die out altogether, but there is no doubt the gravy train has slowed way down since then. There is still some value to be found, but you need to look for it now.
HRMC Targeting “Free Plays”
No-deposit bonuses may be going through the same thing right now. If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed recently that no-deposit casino bonuses are becoming harder and harder to find. It’s probably not your imagination.
Changes to UK gambling tax rules have effectively made it more expensive for casino sites licensed in the UK to offer no-deposit bonuses. The issue was brought to my attention by a post published by James Stevens of ThumpsUpBonus over at Journalism.co.uk.
The Finance Bill of 2017 changed the rules last year to apply the Remote Gaming Duty (RGD) to free plays and bonuses offered by online casinos. This brings the way no deposit bonuses are taxed more in line with how free bets offered by online bookmakers are treated under the Remote Betting Duty.
Previously, free plays were treated under a more generous tax structure compared to fee bets. HMRC included this change in an early version of the Finance Bill last year, but then stripped out the provision later much to the delight of operators. However, the provision was reintegrated into the Finance Bill and took force on 1 August 2017.
UK operators now have to pay a tax on free plays (no deposit bonuses) and can no longer treat free plays as paid out winnings for tax purposes. The result of this change is significant; HRMC estimated last year that the change would result in collecting an additional £45 million in tax in the first year and £110 million by 2020/21.
So, if you have noticed a slowdown in no-deposit bonuses since last August, you probably aren’t imagining it. It has become significantly more expensive for operators to offer free play bonuses and less beneficial in their tax calculations.
If no-deposit bonuses really are declining in number, is it really such a loss?
No-deposit bonuses have never been my favourite type of offer due to the terms and conditions associated with them. Rarely do you find an offer that is truly no-deposit, as in you can claim the bonus, win some money and then cash it all out without ever depositing a single thing.
Nearly every no-deposit bonus I’ve ever played with or reviewed has required a deposit at some point. Usually, you read through the terms and conditions to find out you do actually have to deposit at some point if you want to withdraw any winnings. And even then, some casino sites actually subject anything you win with the free money to wagering requirements.
Win limits are also quite common with no-deposit offers. Think you’re going to just claim free bonuses and give the progressive machines a spin until you hit a big jackpot? Think again – many free plays limit your winnings to some predetermined amount.
The news isn’t all bad, though. Players are catching on to the sneaky tricks so many casinos sites used in the past to give us backhanded bonuses and the industry knows it. For example, PlayOJO was established in 2017 with a business model based on transparency and simplicity.
PlayOJO offers a new take on new player bonuses. Rather than giving new customers a watered-down “free money” offer full of terms and conditions, PlayOJO instead gives new players up to 50 free spins with no wagering requirements whatsoever. Anything you win is yours to keep with no strings attached.
The PlayOJO free spins bonus does have terms and conditions of course, but you can read them for yourself here and see that the offer is indeed generous. The only time they even limit your potential winnings is if you have never deposited before. In that case, they limit the win to €100. However, if you make a deposit to claim your free spins, there is no limit to how much you can win and cash out.
This is not a traditional no-deposit bonus because it does require a funded account to claim, but the structure of the bonus demonstrates a new push by at least one UK-licensed casino to make its bonuses actually worthwhile and understandable.
Wes Burns co-founded OnlineCasinoSites.com with a mission to help gamblers understand and navigate the regulated online casino market in all countries around the world. Wes is a respected gambling journalist, working in the industry since 2008.