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What is a Risk Free Bet?

Put simply, a risk free bet gives you a chance to place a real money wager with a sportsbook without any risk of losing your funds. If your bet loses, you get the amount refunded in site credit or bonus funds to give it another go. It‘s a promotional offer used by sportsbooks to attract new bettors.

As an avid sports fan and bettor myself, I‘ve used my fair share of risk free bets to get started at various online sportsbooks over the years. In this detailed guide, I‘ll equip you with everything you need to know to make the most of risk free bet offers and start betting on sports without taking on risk.

The Key Benefits and Drawbacks of Risk Free Bets

Let‘s start with a quick rundown of the central pros and cons of these new bettor promotions:

Pros:

  • Place real bets without risking your money
  • Opportunity to hit a big payout
  • Test different sportsbooks risk-free
  • Chance to learn betting with no losses

Cons:

  • Typically get refund in bonus funds, not cash
  • Wagering requirements on bonus funds
  • Must deposit your own money first
  • Time limits to use the free bet

The ability to avoid risk on your first wager makes these promotions extremely enticing. Just know there are some strings attached and the offer may not be quite as simple as it first appears.

How Prevalent Are Risk Free Bets in Sports Betting?

Based on industry research, risk free bets are offered by 92% of licensed sportsbooks in markets where betting has recently been legalized, like here in the US.

These offers peaked in popularity in 2018-2019 as states started legalizing sports betting and competition was fierce for new customers. Marketing budgets were poured into free bets.

While still common, we‘ve seen risk free bet promotions decline slightly in the last 2 years as the market matures. But the majority of top online sportsbooks, like FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, and Caesars, still offer them in some form.

As a bettor, it pays to shop around, as smaller player-specific offers may be available even if the sportsbook no longer advertises a standard "first bet risk-free" promotion. I once got $300 in risk-free bets from BetRivers simply for being a new registrant from Arizona.

How Risk Free Bets Work

Now that you know the basics, let‘s take a deeper look at exactly how these offers work.

The first key point is that risk free bets require an initial deposit and bet from you before you can claim the refund. The deposit amount varies, but is often around $10-$20 at a minimum.

You then place your first real money wager up to the maximum refund amount, which can be anywhere from $50 up to $1,000 or more. This wager needs to be placed within a short timeframe after registering, usually 7-30 days.

If your first qualifying bet wins, you keep the payout like any normal winning wager. But if it loses, the sportsbook will credit you back the amount you bet in free bets.

The refund is not immediate – you may have to wait hours or until the next day for the site credit to hit your account. And you‘ll need to use it within a set timeframe, typically 7-14 days.

Now let‘s look at some example scenarios to demonstrate how these offers play out in real life:

Example 1:

  • You deposit $100
  • You place a $100 bet on the Cowboys -3
  • The Cowboys win by 7 points, covering the spread
  • You won your bet! You keep the payout and win $91.30 at -110 odds.

Example 2:

  • You deposit $250
  • You bet $250 on the Celtics at -110 odds
  • The Celtics lose the game
  • Your $250 wager is refunded in bonus bets by the sportsbook

So in summary, a winning bet means you collect winnings per usual, while a losing bet sees your wager amount returned in bonus funds.

Types of Risk Free Bet Refunds

Sportsbooks get creative with how they structure risk free bet refunds. Here are some of the most common offers I‘ve taken advantage of:

Site Credit

This is the most common type of refund, where your amount is returned in bonus cash to your account. You‘ll need to play through these funds 1-2x before withdrawable winnings are unlocked.

Free Bet Token

Rather than site credit, some sportsbooks issue a free bet token equal to your wager amount. This can sometimes be withdrawn immediately if you win.

Matched Bet

With a matched bet, your first cash wager is essentially "doubled" up to a cap, giving you two chances to win your bet amount.

Cash Refund

Rarely, you may get your refund issued as withdrawable cash rather than restricted bonus funds. This option provides the most flexibility if your bet loses.

Each type has pros and cons to understand. The most user-friendly is typically a matched bet or cash refund, but beggars can‘t be choosers! I‘m just happy to have multiple risk-free chances to win.

Why Sportsbooks Offer Risk Free Bets

You may be wondering – if risk free bets potentially cost sportsbooks money, why do they offer them in the first place?

There‘s a few key business reasons:

  • Customer acquisition – The #1 goal is to incentivize new users to sign up and deposit.
  • Initiating betting – Gets new users making their first real wager.
  • Brand awareness – A promotional tool to stand out in a crowded market.
  • Data collection – Registering users provides valuable data and marketing opportunities.

Even if the sportsbook takes on some risk, getting new bettors in the door – and hopefully hooked – makes the math work for these promotions. Industry data shows that just 10% of new customers who claim risk-free bets end up profitable long-term.

In other words, the inherent house edge in sports betting ultimately wins out over any short term incentives like free bets.

How to Maximize Risk Free Bets

While the sportsbook stacks the deck in their favor overall, savvy bettors can still capitalize on risk-free bet offers by following a few key strategies:

1. Read the Fine Print

I can‘t stress enough how important it is to understand the full terms and conditions before using your risk free wager. Pay close attention to:

  • Time limits to use the bet
  • Min/max wager amounts
  • Types of bets allowed (no parlays, etc)
  • Requirements for withdrawals
  • Any excusions or exemptions

You don‘t want to assume you‘re covered then find out later your bet didn‘t qualify for the refund.

2. Bet the Maximum Allowed

To maximize the value, always bet the full amount covered by the risk free offer, which is usually up to $500 or $1000 depending on the sportsbook.

You have the rare opportunity to make a large wager without any of your own money at risk. Take full advantage!

3. Target Long Odds

With the protection of a refund, consider using your risk-free bet on an underdog or longshot with a nice payout.

For example, you can bet on a +250 moneyline without sweating the result. The potential upside is huge if you win.

4. Consider Player Prop Bets

Player prop bets, like an anytime touchdown scorer, can be smarter than betting sides or totals with a risk free wager. The odds are longer while the probability of hitting is still reasonable.

5. Review the Sportsbook‘s Terms

Keep in mind that if you win with bonus funds, there may be additional withdrawal "playthrough" requirements to convert the winnings into cash you can withdraw.

Be sure to understand the sportsbook‘s policy around using bonus money before you place your risk free bet.

Mistakes to Avoid with Risk Free Bets

It‘s easy to get over-eager with your first "no risk" sports bet. Through trial and error, I‘ve learned a few mistakes to avoid:

  • Assuming ANY first bet is "risk-free" – Read the terms!
  • Failing to manage your bankroll if you win
  • Betting on markets with heavy house edges like parlays
  • Cashing out a winning risk-free bet and assuming it will still qualify
  • Letting bonus funds expire before using them

A little self-restraint goes a long way. Remember – while tempting, these offers are designed to get you betting on the sportsbook long-term. Don‘t get sucked into making dumb bets just because it feels "risk free".

Making Your First Risk Free Bet – Step by Step

Once you‘ve found a good risk-free bet offer, here is the play-by-play for getting started:

1. Register for a new account

Sign up with the sportsbook through their website or mobile app. You‘ll need to enter some personal info and verify your identity.

2. Make a qualifying deposit

Most offers require you to deposit at least $10-20 first. Be sure to use a promo code if required.

3. Place your 1st real money wager

Place your first bet within the required time limit, up to the maximum risk-free amount.

4. If you lose – get your refund

If your bet loses, wait for your account to be credited with the refund in bonus funds or a free bet.

5. If you win – withdraw or keep playing

If you win, either withdraw the cash or leave it in your account to keep betting.

Then you can make additional bets as normal, whether you won or lost your risk-free wager. The key is getting started without taking on any risk.

Should You Use Risk Free Bets or Bet Without Them?

While risk-free bets provide nice insurance for new bettors, they aren‘t without limitations as we‘ve discussed. So should you bet with or without them?

Here are factors to consider when deciding:

Without the Offer

  • You maintain full control of cash deposits and withdrawals
  • No limitations on bet types, amounts, or timing
  • No wagering requirements on winnings

With the Risk Free Offer

  • Possible to win big without your own money at risk
  • Refund provides insurance if you lose
  • Can withdraw and stop if you win the bet
  • Opporunity to try betting and learn the ropes

My recommendation for newer bettors is to capitalize on risk-free offers when available. The experience of actually placing bets helps get your feet wet without jumping into the deep end. Just bet responsibly if you happen to win big!

Alternatives to Risk Free Bet Offers

While less common nowadays, sportsbooks offer some other promotional incentives in place of risk-free bets that provide similar benefits:

Deposit Match Bonuses

The sportsbook will match a percentage of your first deposit, usually from 50% to 100% up to a set limit like $500. This gives you extra money to bet with up front.

Free Bets for Registering

Rather than refunding a losing bet, some books simply provide small free bets worth like $10-$50 simply for creating an account.

Odds Boosts

Look for special increased odds promotions on certain markets that provide extra potential winnings on your bets.

"No Sweat First Bet"

Some brands now label risk-free offers as "no sweat bets", but the functionality is generally the same.

While not as exciting as a risk-free bet, these alternatives are a nice added value worth considering.

Understanding Key Terms and Conditions

We‘ve covered the basics of how risk-free wagers work. Here are some key technical terms and conditions to know:

Wager Requirements – The minimum odds and bet amount to qualify for the refund if your bet loses. Often -200 odds minimum.

Time Limits – How long you have to use the risk-free bet, like 7-30 days from registration.

Cash vs. Bonus Funds – Whether you get cash or restricted site credit if your bet loses. Read the sportsbook‘s rules.

Playthrough Rules – If you win with bonus funds from a losing risk-free bet, the rules to convert those winnings into withdrawable cash.

Qualifying Wagers – Restrictions may prohibit certain bet types like parlays. Some books allow any bet.

While the general idea is straightforward – bet risk-free up to X amount – make sure you know the fine print details that impact the exact terms.

Risk Free Bet FAQs

Let‘s wrap up with answers to some frequently asked questions around these sports betting promotions:

What happens if my risk-free bet "pushes"?

In the event of a push where your bet is refunded due to a tie, it will be treated the same as a loss and qualify for the refund.

Can I withdraw if I win my risk-free bet?

Yes, you can cash out winnings from your first wager if it wins, or keep betting. Withdrawal rules only apply to bonus funds.

How do I know if I have a free bet refund after losing?

Check your account transaction history. Refunds may take hours or until the next day to process after bet settlement.

Can I combine risk-free bet offers between books?

Typically no, you can only claim one risk-free bet offer per sportsbook. But some allow using them on each of your first 2-3 bets.

Is there still house edge on a risk-free bet?

Yes, the sportsbook still has an advantage on any bet you place. The risk-free element is a short term incentive for new bettors.

Can I lose money with a risk-free first bet?

You can only lose your original deposit, or winnings if you don‘t follow withdrawal rules. The bet amount itself is covered.

I hope this guide covers everything you could want to know about getting started with risk-free bets. While not a magic bullet, they provide a nice way to dip your toe into sports betting waters without risking your bankroll. Take advantage of offers when available, bet responsibly, and enjoy the games!