There are other key elements that aren’t readily apparent in poker bonus offers which are as important to know as the ones we’ve just discussed, if not more. (That’s why we include these details up front on all our poker room pages.) These are the terms and conditions which determine how, when, and in what manner your bonus cash will be turned into real cash in your poker account.
While first deposit bonuses are great, they still have to be earned. You can’t just cash in your bonus money and head to the next poker room. You must play a certain amount of poker in order to “clear” the bonus money first. While the maximum bonus and percentage match are the most prominent pieces of the bonus offer, the clearance (sometimes called ‘playthrough’) requirements are arguably the most important. Clearance requirements determine how quickly you will be able to actually get your hands on the bonus money.
In order to release a bonus, you need to generate rake – that’s the money that the poker room removes from pots at cash game tables (typically 5% per hand that you participate in), and the money that you pay in fees for tournaments (usually about 10% of the tournament buy-in). In other words, it’s how they make their money and stay in business.
The rake that you generate is compiled in one of two fashions. Either it is simply added together so that you have a total (i.e., $XXX raked) from which you are paid a flat percentage or ‘rakeback’, or (much more commonly) it is converted to Player Points. Player points are ‘paid out’ based on how much rake you generate in each cash game hand or tournament in which you participate. Player points have many different names depending on what poker room you are playing in. Some of the more common variations are: Frequent Player Points (FPPs); VIP Points; Poker Points; Bonus Points; and Status Points. Whatever their name, they are considered a ‘perk’ or reward which the poker room gives to players to encourage loyalty (think of them as airline or credit card points). These Player Points can in turn be cashed in by you to buy tournament tickets, additional bonuses, or poker gear.
Most importantly, Player Points are also typically used to calculate how quickly you will clear your bonus.
The clearance rate is a percentage representation of the amount of rake that will be returned to you as your bonus. The higher the clearance rate, the better. If the clearance rate on a particular bonus is 25%, then it means that for every $1 you pay in rake, you get 25 cents (25% or one-quarter) back.
The clearance rate is probably the single most meaningful piece of information for any poker bonus offer. But you won’t find it on any poker room website. (Again, that’s why we’re here for you! You’ll find the clearance rate clearly stated on every one of our poker room pages.)
In order to calculate the clearance rate, you need to know two things: the rate at which Player Points are paid out; and the rate at which the bonus is paid out. Here’s a simple example:
1 – Our Betsafe Poker bonus is earned at a rate of $1 for every 8 Player Points you collect.
2 – Players receive 3.6 Player Points for every $1 in contributed cash game rake and/or tournament fees.
The clearance rate then, is 3.6 divided by 8, multiplied by 100%, or 45%.
Again, that simply means that for every $1 in rake and tournament fees you generate, you will receive 45 cents in poker bonus money. That may not sound like a lot, but when you add up all the rake and tournament fees that you are paying over days and weeks and months, it turns into quite a handy sum. And that’s simply for playing the poker games that you are likely to play anyway, with or without a bonus!
To round out this discussion on the key elements of the poker bonus, it is important to note in what increments your bonus will be paid out. Most poker rooms tend to pay out their bonus (in cash to your account) in fairly small increments of $5 – $10. This means that you will receive a payment of that increment every time you generate enough rake or player points to reach the appropriate level.
Normally, the payout increment is not of concern, however sometimes we have bonuses which only payout in one lump sum. If that is the case, you need to be sure that you will be able to clear the whole amount before your bonus expires, otherwise you may get nothing. (If the bonus payout is in small increments, the most you can ever lose out on is ‘one’ increment.) Once any increment of a bonus is released to you, it can never be taken away even if you do not clear the full amount of the bonus before it expires.
Last in our list of key poker bonus terms is the expiry date. As noted above, you want to be able to clear your full bonus before the expiry, which will typically be 60 or 90 days, but can sometimes be as little as 30 days. Just be sure you are aware of how long you will have to clear your bonus before you sign up to better gauge how much you should be depositing.
Other Poker Bonus Thoughts
Regardless of the clearance calculation method, you must understand the requirements before committing yourself to a deposit bonus. Some bonuses may look great in that they give you a high dollar amount and a high percentage, but if the poker room makes them very difficult to earn, they are worthless.
For higher stakes players, much of this won’t be very important, as plenty of rake gets scooped from high stakes games, allowing players to earn bonuses easily; but for the average online player, a thorough understanding of the bonus structure is key.
While playthrough requirements are the most important details to know about deposit bonuses, there are a couple other elements of which to be aware. Depending on how difficult the bonus is to earn, you may not always want to max it out, lest you run out of time. In a nutshell, you can afford to max out the bonus if it is paid in increments, as your play will almost always earn you something, whereas you may need to set your sights on a smaller bonus if it is paid in its entirety at the end.
Finally, be sure to check out the cash out rules, as some online poker rooms will void your entire bonus if you withdraw a single penny before you earn it all.
All of this may sound like a lot to worry about, but as you read up on a few deposit bonuses, it will all become clear. Soon, spotting the best bonuses will become second nature. And if not, we’re always here to help you decide!