What Is a Risk Free Bet?

Risk free keyboard

A risk free bet is one of many types of new customer welcome offer provided by bookmakers. Here we take a look at how these promotions work and how good they are compared to other similar sign up deals. In addition, we will explain anything you need to look out for when claiming a risk free bet, as well as considering the crucial issue of whether they truly are risk free in a literal sense.

The world of online betting is more competitive than ever and in order to try and attract new customers, virtually all bookmakers offer some form of welcome offer. The most common style of promotion is a matched free bet, where you place a bet with your own money first and then get a free bet worth the same amount, or sometimes even double, treble (or more) the value of your initial stake. Alternatively, you may be offered enhanced odds on your first wager or some other form of incentive, such as bet credits or from time to time a physical gift such as a football shirt.

Bookies love to differentiate themselves from one another and so some sites decided to offer a “risk free bet”. It is a fairly self-descriptive concept and the idea is that you can make an initial bet with no risk. However, whilst in some ways this is a promo that does what it says on the tin, any sensible punter should always question an offer that professes to give you anything for free and you should always make sure you understand the promotion in question before piling in.

How Do Risk Free Bets Work?

The precise terms of each offer will vary from one bookmaker to the next but in general, risk free bets will usually work like this:

  • Join Bookie – Such promotions are for new customers only
  • Deposit – Add funds to your account
  • Bet – Make a bet using real cash
  • If You Win – If your selection wins the offer is completed and you have made a profit
  • If You Lose – The value of your losing bet (up to a specified maximum) will be refunded
  • Cash or Free Bets – Sometimes the refund will be paid as cash, which will then be yours to bet with or withdraw as you see fit; Sometimes it will be paid in free bets or as a bonus balance with terms attached before you can withdraw

The simple idea of this type of offer is that you cannot lose, hence the “risk free” part of the promo name. You make a bet using your own cash and, if it wins, happy days. You’ve made a profit and you are free to either withdraw the cash, make another bet or do whatever you want (for example, leave it on your account for when you next want to place a wager).

If, on the other hand, your initial punt comes a cropper, the bookie refunds your losing stake. As detailed above, this refund will either be in the form of fully withdrawable cash or will be as a free bet, or some other form of bonus credit. This distinction is a fairly large one and whilst it is a good offer either way, it is certainly better if the money back is cash rather than free bets. Indeed, some would say that if the refund is free bets then the offer is not truly risk free, something we shall look at shortly.

What Is the Difference Between Cash Refund & Free Bets?

British pound refund conceptIf the bookmaker in question gives you a cash refund then you are free to do whatever you want with it. You can bet on, leave the balance as it is for a future bet or withdraw your money and head to the pub, shops or anywhere else. We have a separate feature about the concept of “paid in free bets” but if the money back from your losing initial bet is made in this way, extra steps will be needed before you can actually withdraw anything.

Most of the time, you will have to use the refund to make just a single bet. Let’s assume it was a £20 risk free bet and you lost your first wager. You receive a £20 free bet token, bonus or account credit and you must make a bet of £20 with this before you can extract any cash from your account. If your £20 bet wins, happy days; but if it loses, you have lost overall.

Even if it wins, you are still almost certainly worse off than you would have been had the money back been cash. This is because almost all free bets and bonus balance credits are stake not returned. This means that the actual value of the free bet itself is not included with winnings. With a real money bet you get your stake plus the winnings when you win a bet but with a stake not returned free bet you only get the winnings.

So, the same £20 refund will yield different profits when it is re-wagered depending on whether it was a cash refund or paid as free bets. The difference will be the value of the initial risk free bet itself, in this case £20. A £20 bet made with cash at 10/1, for example, returns £120, whereas the same wager made with a £20 free bet would yield just £100 of withdrawable cash. And of course, this is all assuming that you win with any further bets.

Are These Offers Really Risk Free?

Assuming the refund of any losing stake is made in cash it cannot be argued that these are offers are not risk free. In simpler terms, if your money back is real money, these welcome offers are 100% risk free. You have to deposit real cash and you may lose that, but then the offer kicks in and that same real money is returned to you. You can withdraw that with no further betting needed, no cunning terms there to trip you up and no hoops to jump through.

Indeed, with some fast-paying bookies, the vagaries of the banking system may mean that your risk free stake is back in your bank account before it even shows as a fully cleared outbound debit. You can literally have the money you funded your bet with back in your bank the same day and the only thing you have lost is your time – a fair price to pay for the chance to win a bet and make a real cash profit with no risk.

However, we have a lot of sympathy with those that argue that where these risk free offers credit refunds using free bets not cash, it is incorrect to call them risk free. If you lose your first bet and then lose your second bet, made with the refunded free bets, you have lost overall and are out of pocket. How can an offer be risk free if when you claim it, you end up down? This is a very fair question.

It could be argued that the initial bet is risk free if it is viewed as a purchase. You are effectively “buying” a bet, of say £10. That costs you £10 but there is no risk because even if you lose with that bet, you will still get another £10 bet in the shape of the free bet refund. So, if you lose, you still end up with the same thing you “bought” in the first place, a £10 bet.

Much of it comes down to language and how different people understand different phrases. If a bookie advertises a £20 free bet, is it really “free” if you have to make a £20 deposit and bet before you get it? In both instances, we would say that as long as the terms of the offer are clear it is fine to advertise the former as a risk free bet and the latter as a free bet. In the supermarket, you may see BOGOF offers (buy one, get one free) and no doubt some sticklers have tried to argue that this is misleading as there is nothing technically free. But these days most people understand the concept of BOGOF deals and in the same way, most people who use online bookmakers understand how these types of promotions work.

Risk free bets are slightly more complex than some other betting offers and also more so than a BOGOF promo in a shop. However, over the past few years the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), helped by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), have worked together to make sure that offers and, crucially, how they are promoted, are as clear as possible. This means that whenever a risk free bet (or another offer for that matter) is paid in free bets rather than cash, this fact will be prominently displayed. It will feature as a key term alongside banners and images and also in the short-format summary of the full Ts and Cs.

This means it is easy to see and we always recommend reading such key facts at the very least before you decide to take up any betting offer. Whether these offers truly are risk free is in many ways besides the point and is maybe best off left for drunken debates in the pub, or indeed sober ones between legal experts. What matters is that anyone taking up such a deal understands how it works and with clear marketing and plain language in the promotional small print, there is no reason why anyone should not fully comprehend how a risk free bet will function.

The ASA & Risk Free Bets

ASA logoAs part of a wider anti-gambling mood in government, the ASA and UKGC have, as said, taken steps to restrict the way offers can be advertised and promoted. A range of measures has been taken in a number of areas to try and make gambling safer and fairer and to protect the customer. With regards risk free bets and indeed free bets and offers in general, the ASA issued Guidance for Advertisers of Free Bets and Bonuses. This explained that offers marketed as being “risk free” must “incur no loss to the consumer”.

Such comment from the ASA is, as the name suggests, guidance and, in general, they only tend to deal with complaints about advertising on a reactive, rather than proactive basis. In 2016, the ASA upheld a complaint regarding risk free bets but this concerned a minimum odds requirement not being displayed prominently enough. There have been other cases upheld by the ASA with regards to the notion of money back but again, these have tended to focus on the small print of the offer, rather than the concept of risk free bets themselves.

At the time of writing in April 2021, there have not been any challenges made to the ASA about the fact that such offers may not technically be risk free when they are paid in free bets. However, given the guidance from the ASA and the increasing appetite for action against bookies and third party marketers, a number of sites have shifted their offers from being paid in free bets to cash refunds instead.

As said, this does make them genuinely risk free in our eyes and it may be that before too long all sites offering risk free bets work in this way. Paying out refunds as withdrawable cash is risky for bookies but they would probably offset that by making such offers only valid up to a low maximum value of perhaps £10 or £20.

Key Terms to Look Out For

As said, thankfully, most free bets and offers these days have simple and easy to understand terms. Indeed, guidance from the regulators means this has to be the case but even so, it is still worth paying attention to the most important restrictions and requirements. Some of the following are less relevant than they used to be but even so, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of the possibility of such Ts and Cs.

  • Value of Risk Free Bet – There may be a minimum stake required for the first bet and there will always be a maximum value on the refund
  • Cash or Free Bets – More and more bookmakers are paying risk free bet refunds as cash but it is crucial you understand if this is the case before you claim an offer
  • Minimum Odds – There may be minimum (and sometimes maximum ) odds for the first bet and/or any subsequent free bets
  • General Restrictions – There are a number of more general terms that can apply to just about all offers; Ones to look out for are geographic restrictions (especially if you live outside the UK), time limits, and market and sport restrictions

Are Risk Free Bets Any Good?

Man looking confused

When any refunds are paid in cash, risk free bets are truly and indisputably free of risk. As such, they are great offers for anyone wanting to try out a new bookie but who either is highly risk-averse or just a little low on funds. Like with a no deposit free bet, risk free bets that provide instantly withdrawable cash refunds and no strings attached are all upside with no potential downside. If your first bet wins, you make a profit, whilst if it loses you have not lost a penny (assuming you exercise your right to withdraw the money rather than make any more bets).

However, for punters who are prepared to risk losing some money, how do risk free bets stack up? Well, even if they paid in cash, they are often not as good as a more “normal” matched free bet. With a risk free bet you only actually get any benefit from the offer if your first qualifying wager loses. If that first bet wins you get paid out as normal and are in the black, which is great, but there is no extra sweetener to the deal.

In contrast, with a matched free bet, you get the bonus of the free bet whether that first attempt wins or loses. If it loses, as with a risk free bet you get another bite of the cherry but if it wins you get a double win. You get your winnings as normal and a free bet on top. For many, this makes a matched free bet the better option.

In addition, with a risk free bet, the value of the free bet or money back is almost always equal to your initial stake. Some sites may offer a 50% risk free bet, meaning if you lose £20 you would get a £10 refund to try again but it is very rare to see a risk free bet worth more than 100% of the first bet. In contrast, standard matched free bets are often worth double the qualifying bet, or even three or four times the value. So you might see a “Bet £5 get £20 free” deal, or a promo offering a £40 free bet package for just a £20 qualifying bet.

What this means is that risk free bets are not our preferred type of welcome offer. All other things being equal, a no deposit free bet is best, with generous matched freebies next in line. This is not to say that you should disregard a risk free bet offer entirely. However, if there are other sites you have not yet tried out who offer a free bet whether you win or lose, it makes sense to claim these first in our opinion.