If you have an account at one or more online sportsbooks, you’ve probably taken advantage of at least one free bet promotion. Whether through deposit bonuses, rewards programs, or “bet-and-get” offers, free bets are one of the most common ways that bookmakers entice customers to keep playing.
You might treat these free bets as cash, using them to bet as you normally would at the sportsbook. But there are far better ways to take full advantage of these promotions, and using them correctly can add a lot to your bankroll over time.
Free bets aren’t the same as cash
First, we have to realize that free bets aren’t the same as other promotional offers, such as bonus funds. For a comparison that applies in many American markets, we can compare how FanDuel and DraftKings hand out bonuses at their respective sportsbooks.
At FanDuel, the sportsbook gives out bonus money for promotions. This money can’t be used on future promotions, but otherwise acts as cash. If you win a bet, you not only get your winnings, but you also keep the bonus that you wagered – just like a bet you make with your own balance.
That’s not the case at DraftKings. There, you can earn free bets of specified sizes. You must use each bet for that exact amount, and you only keep any winnings from the bet – not the initial stake. This dramatically changes the proper strategy for taking advantage of these bonuses.
Let’s forget about the vig for a moment to make the math simpler. Normally, fair bets have similar expected values regardless of their odds. If you bet $100 on a +100 bet, you expect to hit 50% of the time. If a +300 is expected to win 25% of the time, and a -300 bet to win 75% of the time, you should break even in the long run in all three scenarios.
Longer odds equal bigger returns
But, since you don’t get your stake back, that’s not the case with free bets. Now, that +100 bet still returns $100 when it wins. But, since you’ll only win half the time, you expect to make an average of $50. Meanwhile, the +300 bet will return $300 about 25% of the time, producing an expected value of $75. Finally, you’ll get only $33.33 when you hit the -300 bet, and since you win 75% of the time, your EV is just $25.
The lesson here is that you get the most value by using your free bets on underdogs. If you can find long shot bets that you like the odds on, these are great targets for these promotions. You won’t win often, but you’ll make more money in the long run.
If you have accounts at multiple sportsbooks and want to take your strategy a step further, you can easily lock in profits by hedging. Since you can’t lose money on a free bet, it’s easy to essentially create an arbitrage situation by taking the other side at another sportsbook.
Imagine you have a $10 free bet that you use on a +500 line. If you can find the other side of that wager at a competing sportsbook at -490, you can make a hedge bet of $42.75 to guarantee a profit of $7.25. While some websites offer tools to help bettors find the most efficient opportunities, you can do this manually to frequently lock in 70% or more of your free bet value.