Online casinos continue to grow in popularity, despite regulatory pressure in many countries, including the UK. Gaming companies have leveraged technological developments such as the advent and fast developing ubiquity of smartphones to develop new routes to market.

The result is an extremely competitive marketplace as casinos old and new vie with one another to attract users. Gaming companies, such as PlayOjo have always invested heavily in marketing, and most strategies are underpinned by the same concept: casino bonuses. There are signs. However, that traditional bonuses are changing under the pressure of market forces. But is that good news for players?

The Traditional Online Casino Bonus
Even if you’ve never spun a slot, rolled a set of virtual dice or dealt a poker hand at an online casino, you’re likely to have some awareness of casino bonuses. They’re advertised everywhere and offer prospective players the opportunity to pocket free cash and free spins (effectively ‘free’ bets) on a variety of games.

The promise of ‘something for nothing’ is understandably appealing to large cohorts of players. The bonuses are not always, however, quite as attractive as they seem. They typically include various terms and conditions that dilute their value and limit the chances of a player winning significant sums of money when using the bonus.

Wagering Requirements
Any discussion about the structure of casino bonuses needs to acknowledge the role of wagering requirements. These are effectively insurance policies that casinos impose on bonuses to reduce their exposure. They impose rules on a player, so he or she has to stake through a bonus amount or winnings generated from free spins a designated number of times before withdrawing any money generated from it.

It’s best illustrated by a simple example. Let’s say that you have a £10 bonus, but the casino attaches x25 wagering requirements to it. Even if you win a sum of money – let’s say another £10 for the sake of argument – when using your bonus, you won’t be permitted to withdraw the money straight away. First, you will need to play through £250 (10 x £25) worth of further stakes. If winnings remain at the end of the spree, then and only then can you withdraw them.

Maximum Wins and Minimum Stakes
Wagering requirements have traditionally been associated with pretty much every online casino bonus you can find. They just vary in size from bonus to bonus. Wagering impositions aren’t the only means that sites use to mitigate their risk of heavy losses from players using bonus cash, however. There are often other conditions too.

Maximum win ceilings are one obvious ploy that they have at their disposal. They can provide you with a £20 bonus but limit your winnings to £100, so they can better predict potential losses. At the other end of the scale, they frequently apply minimum stake levels to bonus cash and free spins. This means players can only stake the lowest possible amount permitted by a game on any individual bet, limiting the amount they can win.

Casino Bonus Terms and Conditions
It’s not my intention to pass personal judgement on the structure of bonuses here, and particularly their terms and conditions. In some ways, the terms themselves are understandable. Casinos are exposed to risk, and the bonus still allows users to play some games without risking their own cash. That said, the limiting terms and all too often buried in small print, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Regulators Turn Up the Heat
Plenty of countries now regulate their own gaming market. The industry has come under significant pressure from the likes of Poland and the Netherlands, and now the UK is experiencing genuine change too. The country’s regulator, the Gambling Commission, has placed bonus terms and conditions under the microscope, and their conclusions are stark.

In December 2017, they warned gaming companies to either remove limiting factors and onerous terms and conditions or find ways to communicate them more transparently. They have indicated a willingness to enforce their recommendations if the casinos don’t change their practices.

A Competitive Environment
Regulatory pressure attracts headlines, but there are other forces pressurising casinos and their use of bonuses too. Market forces are strong in such a competitive market, and new online casinos have to find new ways of competing for their share of the spoils.

Their use of bonuses is one lever they can pull. This has encouraged a growing number of casinos to seek ways of reducing the burden of terms and conditions on players and in many cases, dispose of wagering requirements altogether. As more brands do the same, others are likely to follow as a domino effect kicks in.

The Death of Wagering Requirements
A small movement is yet to become a trend. The vast majority of online casino bonuses still feature wagering requirements. Times are changing though. The regulatory pressures and competitive forces will ensure that all online casinos review their practices. If they don’t, they will lose ground on their rivals or be barred from practicing in some hefty markets.

It will be interesting to see how online casino bonuses develop from here. Players are increasingly aware of bonus terms and conditions, and some have started to reject them. New casinos like PlayOjo have taken advantage of those conditions by promising ‘no wagering’ and implementing cash back schemes in place of traditional bonus structures. You’d expect the wider industry to assess their own position as well. The stakes are far too high if they don’t.