Can you tame the Poker Bonus Beast?

The Poker Bonus is a tricky beast to lock down. Most players wanting to maximise their start into online poker’s money making potential should try to avoid the poker room bonus trap.

Despite an accelerated ‘bonus war’ resulting from the introduction of the US Unlawful Internet Gambling Act, poker room bonuses do not mean instant cash, or even necessarily a free bankroll to start to play.
In reality, most poker bonuses only pay out if you play a lot of poker – and I mean a LOT of poker – those players that can and do play at the level required for successful bonus releases are generally not that inspired by the bonus! They’re already capable of making good money just by playing and usually have the time and resources to do so.

We concur with industry commentator, Kishan Nielsen, who recently questioned the integrity of poker room promoters who claim it is “possible for someone with enough time, and the ability to play break-even poker, to make over $100,000 in their first year just by Bonus Whoring”.

Incentives offered to new customers by online poker rooms vary considerably between card rooms and should all be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt. Do your homework or you will be disappointed.

At we compare poker rooms for a living and still struggle at times to fully understand the terms and conditions imposed on customers when they sign up for certain poker room promotions. In general however, a bonus takes the form of a matching amount of ‘free money’ credited to a players account in proportion to the initial deposit the player makes.

Free money you say? Ah, no, just hold on there cowboy …

  • Some poker rooms lock in your deposits for 90 days as you attempt to meet bonus play requirements. This means you can’t withdraw even if you want to – not even if you no longer care about the bonus!
  • Avoid sites with no easy way for you to monitor your progress of ‘poker points, comp points, action points’ – call them what you will. You will just end up having seemingly endless dialogue with poker room support staff.
  • Release of most bonuses requires that you play a SIGNIFICANT number of RAKED hands of a certain value to the poker room. This number ranges considerably between rooms but can be in the tens of thousands for a relatively small payout.
  • Even between poker rooms the definition of a raked hand differs –
    “a raked hand is any hand in which you were dealt cards that has a rake taken from the pot”, sounds easy? Some rooms require that you contribute to the pot, others require that the pot is of a certain amount. Low limit and tournament players often find meeting raked hand requirements particularly tough based on the bonus release criteria.
  • Some card rooms do not release any bonus until you meet their play through IN FULL and in the limited time stipulated (like 30 days – yeah, that’s a happening thing). Generally we consider a poker room to have higher integrity if they at least incrementally release a bonus and make it easy to translate between ‘poker points required’ and raked hands to play.

Read the fine print, no matter how boring and how deeply buried within the web site it is. I know it’s a smarmy thing to say – but you gotta read it!

At we try to keep things simple and consider that a bonus is only one aspect you should consider when looking to join a poker room.

Here’s a link to our Poker Room assessment criteria so you can see how we assess and rate poker rooms. We do not recommend any card room that has not passed our tests – and almost as important – members of our team continue to play poker on a regular basis at all sites we rate.

Here’s a link to the Online Poker Room Review Directory so you can suss out the best poker site for your location and style of play.