How Should New York Sports Bettors Use Free-Money Promos & Bonuses?

How Should New York Sports Bettors Use Free-Money Promos & Bonuses? article feature image
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New York sportsbooks are about to hand out hundreds of dollars in “free money” to capture your attention and wallets.

So how can you use them to build your bankroll?

There are a few different ways, but free bets should always be used on underdogs or anything plus-money. I’ll explain why in a bit.

The Difference in Promotion Types

First, let’s get into the differences of each promotion type because the terms all sound so similar. We dove deep on this topic already.

  • Free money: It’s cash in your account you can bet or withdraw. This comes in smaller increments like $10 or $25, so if you do take it and run, the book isn’t losing much. Most books don’t give away free money.
  • Free bets: You can bet with this money, and if you win, it turns into real cash. Free bets are the most common promo — anything like “bet $5, win $200” is $200 in free bets.
  • Risk-free bet: FanDuel offers a risk-free bet up to $1,000. But to realize the full $1,000, you need to deposit $1,000. If you win the bet, great. It’s a winning bet and real cash. But if the bet loses, you get credited in free bets — so you need to bet and win using those free bets to get actual cash in your account. Then if you lose that bet, suddenly you have nothing to show for your supposedly “risk-free bet.”
  • Deposit match: BetMGM has a deposit match up to $500. So if you deposit $200, they’ll give you another $200 in free bets. Again, if you lose those free bets, you have nothing to show for your deposit match.
  • Site credit: Site credit is the same as free bets but better because it can be used in any increment. Free bets are often a one-time, $50 bet that must be placed in one wager. $50 in site credit allows you to bet $10 on five different bets, or $1 on 50 bets.

Always read the fine print and make sure you understand the promotions at each book. Sportsbooks aren’t always being malicious with their marketing, but I’d argue they’re intentionally vague. Big dollar amounts catch people’s attention, even though they likely won’t end up with anywhere near that amount.

Just click “more info” or “view terms” under each promotion, and the rules should be clearly laid out.

Understanding Rollovers

If you ever bet offshore, you may have felt a little deceived when you tried to withdraw money after receiving a sign-up bonus, only to find out you need to to hit a rollover requirement. We covered rollovers in-depth here.

A rollover (also called a play-through) is the amount you need to wager to become eligible to redeem your bonus. They’re designed to prevent you from making one bet using a bonus and running away with the free cash. But some offshores have predatory rollovers at 10x or 20x your deposit. You’ll lose all the money trying to bet enough to hit the requirement.

Rollover Math

Most legal U.S. sportsbooks have reasonable rollover requirements.

But DraftKings has a deposit match rollover that you’ll likely end up losing before you can even claim the full amount.

DK gives 20% of your deposit as a bonus, but you must wager 5x your deposit in 90 days to claim the full bonus. The bonus is released $1 at a time for every $25 you wager.

So if you put in $500, DK will give you an extra $100. But to get the full $100, you must wager $2,500 ($500 x 5) in 90 days.

That’s a lot of bets! If you’re a $20 bettor, it will take you 125 bets to hit that threshold.

To keep it simple, let’s say you bet exactly $20 on those 125 bets, all on -110 point spreads.

If you win 50% of them and go 63-62, you’ll lose $111. So you’ve now lost your entire bonus, plus $11.

Even if you do stay afloat and realize the full $100, it’s redeemed in free bets, which you then need to bet to turn into cash.

How to Use Your Sportsbook Bonuses

OK, now for the fun part. How should you use these bets?

1. Bet Underdogs

Your first reaction might be to play it safe and bet on a big favorite with your free bet. Lock in the cash.

There are two flaws with this:

  • Many sportsbooks don’t let you bet huge favorites with free bets (often capped at -300 or so).
  • You’re actually getting less expected value with big favorites anyway.

With a free bet, you’re not risking anything, so the expected value (EV) is the probability multiplied by the amount you can expect to win.

Expected value is the amount of money you’ll win or lose on that bet if it were placed an infinite number of times.

Take these three examples:

Odds Win Amount Probability EV
-250 $20 71.43% +$14.28
+250 $125 28.57% +$35.71
+500 $250 16.67% +$41.67

Example 1: You bet a -250 favorite with your $50 free bet. You’ll win $20 if the bet wins. The probability a -250 favorite wins is 71.43%.

The EV, in this case, is 71.43% x $20, which equals $14.28. So over an infinite number of bets, that $50 will be worth just $14.

Example 2: Now let’s bet a +250 underdog with a $50 free bet. You’ll win $125 if it wins, and you can expect the bet to win 28.57% of the time.

The EV, in this case, is 28.57% x $125, which equals $35.71.

Example 3: How about a +500 underdog with a $50 free bet. You’ll win $250 if it wins, and you can expect the bet to win 16.67% of the time.

The EV, in this case, is 28.57% x $125, which equals $41.67.

It’s mathematically impossible to get a better advantage over the sportsbook on a favorite than on an underdog with a free bet. The longer the odds, the more value you get.

The counter argument is that you only have so many free bets, so this theoretical value may not turn out to be real money if your 30-1 underdogs keep losing. But over your sports betting life, you will get plenty of free bets if you continue to deposit and wager with these books.

You want to take underdogs.

2. Futures

If you bet with a bookie in the past, you’ll be sad to learn that legal sportsbooks do not let you bet on credit. If you want to bet something, you must deposit and wager the money up front.

This makes betting futures a tricky proposition for most bettors. Even if I love Europe to win the 2023 Ryder Cup, do I really want to let the sportsbook hold my money for 18 months? There are surely better things I can do with that money over the next 1.5 years, in or out of sports betting.

So, free bets are a fun way to get exposure to futures without putting up your own money.

The only problem is that sportsbooks have such a ridiculous hold on futures. Books will keep around 25% of every dollar wagered on the Stanley Cup winner, and north of 50% on niche markets like No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. On point spreads, they hold less than 5%.

So mathematically, it’s not always the most effective way to use free bets, but it can be fun to plant your flag on a team or player via futures and cash that bet when you turn out to be right. And sports betting is supposed to be fun, isn’t it?

3. What About Parlays?

Parlays are not a bad option, but instead of tying together a bunch of teams to get a +500 payout, just make a single bet at a similar price. Tying a bunch of favorites together zaps your expected value because the sportsbook is giving you a much worse price than the real probability on parlays.

4. “Free Roll”

An arbitrage is when you bet both sides of the same game at odds that allow you to lock in a profit no matter what.

This isn’t exactly arbitrage, but it’s a similar idea. It’s kind of like a free roll.

You can bet the favorite at one book with real money, and then the underdog at another book with the free bet.

Let’s say you have a $50 free bet you want to use on the NFL this weekend. You can free-roll yourself on the Browns (I am in no way recommending you bet the Browns, it was just a good example based on the odds).

Bet Wager Win Amount If Team Wins
Bengals +225 $50 (free bet) $112 $0
Browns -250 $112 $45 $45

The best prices available on either side of BrownsBengals at the four available New York sportsbooks are:

  • Browns -250 (DraftKings)
  • Bengals +225 (Caesars)

You can use your $50 free bet on Bengals +225. You’d profit $112 if they win.

You can then put $112 on Browns -250, and you’ll win $45.

So now, if:

  • The Browns win, you win $45
  • If the Bengals win, you break even

On that $50 free bet, you’re getting $32 of expected value (71.43% x $45), but you got to bet the favored Browns instead of the Bengals.

As we talked about in the first section, bigger longshots will give you more EV, but I understand people are uncomfortable taking the Jets against the Bills this weekend, even if it’s a free bet.

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