Free bets and welcome offers at online bookmakers take a wide range of forms, whilst there are further similar promotions available to existing customers too. Free bets may be stake returned, stake not returned, no lose, applicable to in-play only, accas only or ante post only; whilst other freebies may be described as “risk free”. It is, as the title of this piece has probably given away, the latter type of promotion that we are looking at here.
What are risk free bets? How do they work? And, perhaps most importantly of all, are they really free of risk? If some are not, why are they allowed to be described as such and is this fair? Put another way, we’ve got everything you want and need to know about risk free bets!
How Do Risk Free Bets Work?
Risk free bets are a type of new customer offer that some betting sites offer. They can be a great way to try a new bookie out, safe in the knowledge that if things go wrong, you won’t lose out. In short, risk free bets typically work by inviting you to place a bet using your own money with the insurance that if it loses you will get a refund. If you win, you win; if you lose, you don’t really lose!
Obviously, that is a generous offer and effectively it gives you two bites of the cherry – or at least it does if your first bite misses the target. As with all promotions and offers there are terms and conditions attached to risk free bets. There is nothing untoward going on here, as long as you understand them, and they are generally simple enough. Such terms may cover any number of the following key points:
The most basic and general terms tend to be that the risk free bet is for new customers only, aged at least 18 and possibly only those who are resident in the UK or Ireland. In addition, this will detail the maximum risk free amount and the nature of the “risk free” element of the deal.
Some promos may require you to enter a sign up offer code, either when you register or when you make a deposit.
Most offers have some sort of time limit, either from when you join to when you claim, when you claim the freebie to when you use it, or both.
Minimum and sometimes maximum odds may apply to the qualifying bet and/or any further bets you need to place.
The initial bet and any others required may be restricted with regards to what markets/sports you can bet on. Only specific types of bet may be eligible for the offer or, alternatively, a select number of bets (or markets or sports) may be excluded.
Can I Lose Money with a Risk Free Bet?
Many of the themes and issues covered in the terms and conditions are about the finer points of the offer and will not concern many punters. However, the key issue for many will be whether or not these welcome deals are really risk free or not. If there is no risk, as the name of the offer really implies – if not categorically states, then surely one should not be able to lose money with a risk free bet. Right?
Well, some risk free bets are truly 100% risk free. Such offers require a deposit and a first bet made with your own money. If it loses then the value of your stake, up to a maximum usually between £10 and £30, is refunded as cash. You are then free to withdraw this cash with no questions ask and, if you want, never use that particular bookmaker again. In this way, assuming you have adhered to other Ts and Cs, you literally cannot lose any money and the offer is legitimately and undeniably risk free.
Other offers are arguably not entirely risk free because the refund of your initial stake is not made as cash but in the form of free bets. We have a separate article about the concept of being “paid in free bets” but, in short, rather than being 100% risk free, these promos are more like, as said earlier, being given two bites of the cherry.
So, if you make a £10 bet and it wins you are paid as normal and have made a nice profit. If it loses, you will receive a free bet token or credit worth £10. This cannot be instantly withdrawn but instead allows you to place another bet of £10. This will usually be a stake not returned free bet so any profit made with the free bet is yours to keep but the £10 free bet stake itself is not. If you make a bet at odds of evens and win, you will break even overall, whilst a winning bet at any odds higher than that will mean that overall you have made a profit.
But If I Lose My Free Bet, I’ve Lost
The obvious risk with these so-called “risk free bets” that return your losing stake as a free bet rather than cash is that if you lose your first bet and your free bet then you will be out of pocket. Indeed, even if your free bet wins, if the odds are any lower than evens you will still be down overall. Some punters may find it hard to understand how an offer can be described as risk free and yet still have a very real possibility of leaving them losing money. It is a fair point.
That said, it could be argued that the first bet is risk free. How so? Well, you are effectively buying (based on our example above) a £10 bet. No matter whether that bet wins or loses, you will still have a £10 bet (the free bet refund) left to use, so there is no risk with the first one.
In many ways, this is the same logic that applies to more normal “free” bet offers and indeed promotions in supermarkets and retail generally that might offer something “free” but with the caveat that there are further terms and conditions. Most free bets are not truly free in that you have to make a paid bet first in order to claim them, in the same way that a “free” bottle of shampoo might first entail you paying for two other bottles first.
No Deposit Free Bet Is Truly Risk Free
One type of free bet that is absolutely 100% risk free is a no deposit free bet, though, sadly, these are offered very infrequently nowadays. With such a freebie, which you may still find from time to time, though more commonly at an online casino, there is no risk whatsoever as you do not need to make a deposit. These truly are free bets in the fullest sense of the word in that all you need to do to claim them is join the site in question.
When you join and claim such an offer, credit is added to your account without you ever having to add any funds of your own. If your free bet wins, the winnings are yours and you can withdraw and walk away with a profit. If it loses, you are equally fine to walk away and you won’t have lost a penny as you never added one in the first place.
In actual fact, no deposit free bets offer the same end result as a risk free bet where losing stakes are refunded as withdrawable cash. With both there is no risk, just one refunds your cash, whilst the other (better for those who lack trust or cashflow!) does not ask you to even put it up in the first place.
Risk Free Bets Versus Standard Free Bets
Some free bets were definitely created more equal than others but where do risk free bets stand in the pecking order? Well, as we have said, no deposit free bets are probably the best type of promotion there is. After that things are a little more complex but one key distinction to make is between the worth of risk free bets with refunds paid as free bets, and “normal” matched free bets.
Most freebies require you to make a paid bet of a certain amount before receiving a free bet of the same value (or sometimes double, treble or even more). Whilst risk free bets are well worth taking up, if the refund is paid as a free bet not cash, a standard matched free bet is the better option all other things being equal. That’s because a matched freebie gives you the extra free bet whether your first wager wins or loses. In contrast, with risk free bets you will only get the free bet if your real money punt is a loser.
ASA & Risk Free Bets
In recent years the government, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have been keeping a very keen eye on the UK betting industry. A general feeling that gambling liberalisation has gone too far has spilt over into many areas and one of those is advertising. A whole host of restrictions have been placed on how and when gambling can be marketed and the ASA has taken action when it believes adverts have been misleading.
Our sentiment is that sometimes this has been merited, whilst at other times it is part of the same culture that requires nuts to be labelled “May contain nuts” and sleeping pills to include a warning about causing drowsiness. There is no doubt that in the past some offers have been overcomplicated and included terms that are, quite simply, unfair. However, equally, when we hear of customers claiming that a £20 free bet wasn’t free because they had to bet £5 to get it we begin to wonder whether it isn’t just people being deliberately troublesome or trying to get something for nothing.
Whether you agree with such regulations or not, the ASA published a Guidance for Advertisers of Free Bets and Bonuses that stated that “‘Risk free’ offers must incur no loss to the consumer.” As long ago as 2016 a case was brought to the ASA regarding risk free bets but this concerned supplementary conditions that meant a refund was not granted, rather than the concept as a whole.
It is certainly an area that the ASA are monitoring. However, in general, it seems that as long as the terms are made clear, so-called risk free bets, where the customer could still lose money, in theory, will be allowed to remain. Crucially, as long as one understands the promotion, these offers still give the customer a very nice helping hand and are not to be turned down. With Ts and Cs now compelled to be clearer and more accessible than ever, a quick skim of the key facts is usually enough to know what you are getting into and, hopefully, to take advantage of these risk free bet offers.