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You’ve likely seen them. They’re hard to miss. Online sportsbooks advertising “risk-free” bets for new customers who join (up to $1,000, $3,000, or even $5,000). Create an account, make one bet, and either win or get the money back? That’s a tempting proposition. But are they truly without risk? Let’s investigate.

Basic Terms

Most risk-free bet promotions have the same basic premise. Sign up, make a deposit, and place a bet. If the bet wins, congratulations, the risk-free offer didn’t matter. If the bet loses, the site issues the money back in the form of site credit or free bets.

For example, if someone participates in Fanduel Sportsbook’s risk-free promotion for new customers, they’ll be issued site credit in the form of “bonus funds” if their first bet loses, equal to the amount of the bet (up to $1,000). These bonus funds can be used to place other bets on the site.

If someone participates in BetMGM’s risk-free offer for new customers, they’ll be issued free bets if their first bet loses, equal to the amount of the bet (up to $1,000). If the bet is $50 or less, one free bet will be issued. If the bet is more than $50, five free bets totaling the amount of the original bet will be issued.

Strings Attached

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As with most things advertised as “free”, risk-free bets have conditions. Some of the conditions vary from place to place. Sites may require a minimum deposit of $10 or $20 to qualify for the offer. There also might be a minimum odds requirement (for instance, the wager had to have odds of at least -150).

But there are constants among all risk-free bet promotions. Every sportsbook requires customers to place a real-money wager. If the real-money wager loses, the site credit/free bet(s) the customer gets back cannot be withdrawn or redeemed for real money. It also can’t be used on other promotions (such as other risk-free offers) and usually expires if not used after a certain period of time (a week, for instance).

There might also be other limitations to the free bet(s) someone receives if their risk-free bet loses. At some online sportsbooks, the value of a free bet doesn’t count towards any winnings. For example, if a person places a free $20 bet on an event with +100 odds and wins, it nets them $20. A real-money wager of $20 on something with +100 odds would net a person $40 if it wins.

Bottom Line

A “risk-free” bet isn’t really risk-free. It should be thought of more as a mulligan. If a risk-free bet loses, a bettor has the opportunity to make up for it with a do-over of sorts. But a second bet must be placed, and if that bet also loses (or isn’t placed), the money is lost just as it would be if someone placed a bet that wasn’t risk-free.

Risk-free bet promotions are nice offers that people who want to bet on sports should take advantage of. But as with any sort of gambling, you should approach it with caution, because it isn’t actually without risk.

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