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What is free bet vs bonus bet? The Ultimate Guide for Sports Bettors

If you‘re new to online sports betting, two terms you‘ll likely come across are "free bets" and "bonus bets." I know from experience that the difference between the two can be confusing when you‘re first getting started. That‘s why I put together this comprehensive guide to help you understand exactly how free bets and bonus bets work, key differences between them, and most importantly, tips to maximize the value from both types of offers.

Free Bets vs Bonus Bets – What‘s the Difference?

Before we dive into the details, here is a quick summary of the key differences between free bets and bonus bets:

Free Bet Bonus Bet
Only keep the profits if bet wins Keep stake + profit if bet wins
Favor betting longshot underdogs Favor betting favorites or low odds
Typically only 1x wager requirement Often has higher wager requirement
Can‘t hedge for guaranteed profit Can hedge to lock in profit

Now let‘s look at the details of how each type of bet works.

What Exactly is a Free Bet?

A free bet gives you the chance to place a wager at absolutely no risk. Think of it as house money provided by the sportsbook.

Here is a step-by-step example:

  • The sportsbook gives you a $20 free bet for signing up
  • You use the $20 free bet to wager on the Lakers at odds of +120
  • The Lakers win their game!
  • You win $24 from your free bet (the $20 stake + $24 in winnings)
  • The sportsbook credits your account with only the $24 profit. You don‘t get the original $20 stake back.

The key takeaway is with free bets, you only keep the profit if your bet wins. The sportsbook keeps the stake amount.

How Do Bonus Bets Work?

Bonus bets operate a bit differently. With a bonus bet, the sportsbook gives you a cash balance to wager however you wish. If your bet wins, you keep both the original stake amount and the profit. If your bet loses, you don‘t lose any money from your actual account balance.

Here‘s a quick example:

  • The sportsbook gives you a $20 bonus bet
  • You wager the $20 on the Warriors at odds of -110
  • The Warriors win their game
  • Your bonus bet pays out $38 (the $20 stake + $18 profit)
  • The sportsbook credits your account the full $38

The key perk of bonus bets is you get to keep the stake whether your bet wins or loses.

Why the Stake Treatment Matters

The different stake treatment has important implications for strategy.

With free bets, you want to bet on underdogs and longshots. This maximizes your profit potential, since you only keep the winnings.

With bonus bets, you want to bet favorites and low odds. This helps guarantee you‘ll at least get the original stake amount back if your bet loses.

Let‘s look at an example to demonstrate the impact of the stake:

Free Bet

  • $20 free bet placed on +300 longshot
  • Longshot wins
  • You win $80 ($60 profit since you don‘t get the $20 stake back)

Bonus Bet

  • $20 bonus bet placed on -200 favorite
  • Favorite wins
  • You win $40 ($20 returned stake + $20 profit)

Even though the longshot offers a higher potential payout, it makes more sense to use the bonus bet on the favorite. This guarantees getting your $20 back.

Key Factors to Compare Free Bets vs. Bonus Bets

In addition to the stake treatment, here are some other key factors to understand:

Wagering Requirements

Most free bets only have to be wagered once before you can withdraw the winnings. Bonus bets often have higher rollover requirements before you can cash out.

For example, a bonus might need to be wagered 5x before withdrawing profits. So you‘d need to place $100 in bets to withdraw from a $20 bonus bet. Always read the fine print!

Expiration Dates

Sportsbooks want you to use free bets and bonuses quickly, so they often come with short expiration dates. Free bets usually expire within 7-30 days if unused.

Make sure to note expiration dates so you don‘t miss out on any offers. I once lost a $500 free bet because I forgot to use it in time.

Hedging and Guaranteed Profits

With free bets, you can‘t hedge your wager to guarantee profit. But bonus bets can be hedged to lock in a return through some clever betting.

For example, you could use a $50 bonus bet to wager on both sides of a game, ensuring you get the $50 stake back no matter who wins. I‘ll explain hedging strategies more later.

Current Free Bet & Bonus Offers from Top Sportsbooks

To make things more practical, let‘s look at some real-world examples of free bet and bonus offers from leading online sportsbooks:


  • Offer: Bet $5, Get $200 in Free Bets
  • Details: $200 in free bets issued as eight $25 free bet tokens
  • Wagering Requirement: 1x playthrough
  • Expiration: 7 days


  • Offer: No Sweat First Bet up to $1,000
  • Details: Refund up to $1,000 back in site credit if your first bet loses
  • Wagering Requirement: None
  • Expiration: None


  • Offer: First Bet Insurance up to $1,000
  • Details: 100% refund on your first bet in site credit if it loses
  • Wagering Requirement: 1x playthrough
  • Expiration: 7 days


  • Offer: 2 Risk Free Bets up to $2,000
  • Details: Receive a refund up to $500 if your first fixed odds & PointsBetting wagers lose
  • Wagering Requirement: 1x playthrough
  • Expiration: 7 days

As you can see, most sportsbooks incentivize new players with either risk-free bets or free bet tokens. It pays to shop around and claim multiple offers!

Tips to Maximize the Value from Free Bets

Now let‘s get into strategy. Here are my top tips for getting the most bang for your buck with free bets:

Bet on Longshot Underdogs

Without getting your stake back, you want to maximize the potential profit. Underdogs and longshots provide the biggest payouts per dollar wagered.

For example, a $10 free bet on a +500 underdog returns $60 if it hits. Whereas a $10 free bet on a -200 favorite only nets $15.

Use Free Bets Individually

Don‘t combine multiple free bets into a single wager. You want to maximize the number of opportunities to win.

Instead of using a $50 free bet on one game, place five $10 free bets on five different games to increase your chances.

Shop for the Best Odds

Lines and odds can vary across sportsbooks. Make sure to shop around for the best payout before locking in your free bet. An extra 10-20 cents of line value adds up.

Combine with Odds Boosts

Look for opportunities to use free bets on odds boosts or enhanced specials. This pumps up the potential profits.

For example, FanDuel was boosting the 76ers to +300. I used my $20 free bet to get +300 rather than the +250 baseline odds.

Don‘t Waste on Heavy Favorites

It rarely makes sense to use free bets on heavy favorites with extremely short odds (i.e. -500 or greater). There is very little upside, so look for more profitable opportunities.

Strategies to Maximize Bonus Bets

The strategies for bonus bets focus on guaranteeing you get the most out of your stake:

Bet on Favorites

Since you get your stake back either way, it makes sense to bet favorites which have a high probability of winning. This protects your bonus funds.

For example, you‘d rather use a $20 bonus bet on a -200 favorite than a +200 longshot.

Hedge Your Bonus Bet

Hedging involves placing bets on both sides of a game to guarantee a return. Sportsbooks don‘t allow hedging with free bets, but it works with bonus bets.

Here is a simple example of hedging a $20 bonus bet on an NFL game with equal -110 odds:

  • $20 bonus bet on Chiefs
  • $18 wager on Raiders (to hedge)

If the Chiefs win, you win $18 from your bonus bet.

If the Raiders win, you win $20 from your hedge bet.

Either way you lock in around $18-20 in profit from your $20 bonus bet.

Shop for the Best Odds

As with free bets, you want to maximize the payout on your bonus bets by shopping for the best odds.

For a -200 favorite, a bonus bet payout might range from $18-$22 depending on the sportsbook. That adds up over many wagers.

Pay Attention to Wagering Requirements

To withdraw the profits from bonus bets, you often have to meet a wagering requirement. Make sure you understand the playthrough rules before betting.

For example, you may need to wager the combined deposit and bonus amount 5x-10x before cashing out. This prevents people from just withdrawing the bonus money.

Key Takeaways: Free Bet vs. Bonus Bet

Let‘s recap the key differences between free bets vs. bonus bets:

  • Free Bet – Keep only the profits if your bet wins
  • Bonus Bet – Keep the stake amount + profit if your bet wins
  • Free Bets favor betting longshots; Bonus Bets favor favorites
  • Bonus Bets can be hedged for guaranteed profit
  • Always check for wagering requirements and expiration dates

I hope this comprehensive guide gives you a strong handle on how to maximize the value from any free bets or bonuses you receive from sportsbooks. Please let me know if you have any other questions!