We understand that most people using this site knows what a free bet and bonus is and therefore below we have decided to tell you some history about free bets and betting offers, where they originated from and how they have evolved. However, if you would like some guidance on how to claim them and how they work you can read about it on our home page. Alternatively if you have specific questions about offers read out Free Bets and Bonuses FAQ.
History Of Free Bets and Changes Over Time
There is a saying that in life “you don’t get something for nothing”. This though, is what the gambling industry would want you to believe.
Gambling can actually be traced back to 2,000 BC ever since a clutch of bored Ancient Chinese soldiers realised that you could gamble using tiles which eventually evolved into the game of Mahjong centuries later.
Over nearly four millenniums, the act of gambling progressed significantly with more and more games, each one as creative as the next; many of which are still played today. Some originating from a number of different countries all over the world and becoming gradually sophisticated as time went by.
In its truest form as we all know it, gambling involves staking a numeric amount of currency on a certain outcome during a game, which will have predefined odds that guarantees a precise jackpot.
As late as the early 20th century, certain members of society began to take a dim view of gambling, especially in Great Britain, however, this did not prevent ‘underground’ gambling clubs and betting rackets.
It was horse racing that was especially in demand and an illicit market soon emerged in the back streets of central London, off the back of an entrepreneurial yet rebellious individual whose enterprising east end motorcycle capers, taking bets in the hundreds led to a permanent, albeit illegal Jermyn Street headquarters.
That individual was who millions now know today as William Hill. A household name, but in every respect, perhaps the true luminary of the UK gambling industry. Opening in 1934, Hill perhaps unwittingly created the first ever, unofficial ‘free bet’.
While gambling was still considered illegal, Hill discovered and considerably exploited a loophole which allowed him to take bets in the form of postal stamps or credit and the bets flooded in.
Legalised Off-Track Betting Changed The Game
In 1961, gambling became legal in the UK and while by now, Hill’s had a few rivals he was still arguably the most well known.
However, it led to a considerable more companies being formed, many of which had to raise capital in a number of ways.
In the space of six months, the British High Street was home to more than 10,000 betting shops, the vast majority of which sporting the emblematic William Hill logo; respectable, dignifying – a complete contrast from the shady image that it had portrayed previously.
Of course, now with the backing of the government who raked in their fair share in taxes, the established companies not only had the financial clout, but also a firm foundation to build on. The biggest challenge was attracting and retaining the customer.
Those firms who really capitalised on customer acquisition really understood marketing and how to leverage clever techniques to reach their target audience. It is no coincidence that these companies are still some of the biggest today.
Relationships with the media, especially newspapers became key and playing the publicity game was something which the mercurial Fred Done of Betfred soon began to do as a way of differentiating the company from every other.
Relatively late to the game in 1966, Done understood the value of risk. His empire was built off the back of a high stakes bet on England winning the World Cup in that year.
While advertising per se wasn’t really an option for bookmakers, due to the government firmly insisting that all shop fronts be blacked out and just as bleak inside, Betfred went against the grain.
They found a way to make sure that punters kept on returning with a favourable focus on superior customer service. Everyone was offered a hot drink on their visit and treated like people, a tactic which won Done and his firm considerable respect and was the first step to a groundbreaking move.
New Dawn In The Age Of Betting
The nineties brought about a much more relaxed approach to advertising. By now, bookmakers had branded windows and bright interiors and this was just the beginning.
In what was a revolutionary move at the time, coupons began to appear in newspapers, with bookmakers being able to reach many more potential customers. These involved free bets for nominal stakes (terms and conditions applicable) and payouts on an extra place for certain horse races.
This strategy proved a huge success and as word spread, newspapers witnessed a spike in sales. It was quite simply, a radical win-win.
It wasn’t until later that decade though, with the dotcom boom that an abundance of possibilities began to open up. Realising that the future was online, many flagship bookmakers made the smart decision to have a digital presence; free bets as we know them today were consequently brought to the masses and even given a completely new meaning.
The internet opened up a whole new world of possibilities and, as a result, we saw many new gambling companies launch, especially from the turn of the new millennium onwards and, as a result these swiftly transitioned into major brands.
Global behemoths such as 888, bet365, BetVictor and Stan James (now part of Unibet) came to the fore, as well as smaller, more agile and niche companies began, such as specialist casino sites (poker).
Each one realised they needed ways of capturing the attention of potential new customers and began to go about this in a highly innovative manner.
Reimagining the Free Bet
As opposed to the pre-internet era when betting shops would advertise ‘free bets’ in the form of a simple £1 free bet on a particular event, the endless possibilities that moving online presented for highly creative marketing managers literally turned the industry on its head.
The free bet essentially repositioned itself as the ‘welcome offer’, almost overnight and companies would do just about anything to make these tempting for new customers.
Having an online presence also allowed companies to not only track data and analytics better from a marketing and strategy standpoint, but also to use segmentation, which when it came to welcome offers, allowed them to narrow down more on target customers.
This meant that online casinos could provide a choice of welcome offers to their customers who could select them at just the click of a button. Also, the first new customer offers had considerably fewer terms and conditions attached to them, which meant there was much less chance of confusion.
Legislation continues to play a key part in gambling, even more so now as new developments are made every year.
The first free bets were often sizeable with each online gambling firm competing to outdo the other. With the internet still in its infancy and little competitive advantage in web development and design terms for usability and functionality all sportsbooks could do in order to compete was to provide generous new customer offers.
It was not unusual to see firms offering completely free £10 and £20 bets to new customers in the hope of retaining their loyalty. Some firms, such as BetVictor offered a choice of either sports or casino free bets and as a result became one of the first companies to start tracking customer preferences for retargeting and database marketing.
There was more to the free bet than meets the eye. It wasn’t just a case of trying to get customers, but tracking how those who took the free bets behaved on their site. Which markets did they bet on? Which casino games or slots did they favour? How big was each stake? How much time would they spend on the site from claiming the free bet to actually wagering?
All of these statistics helped the savvier online gambling firms to build a bigger picture and look to the future sensibly. They could devise marketing plans, decide which markets or types of games to focus on and even predict financial forecasts.
How Free Bets Continued To Evolve
The ‘free bet’ in as loose a sense of the phrase as there is, gives testament to the fact that the gambling industry is arguably one of the most innovative in the world when it comes to new customer initiatives.
This became only too evident as the years progressed since gambling companies moved online. As more and more variations of the free bet came to the fore, with companies fighting to get the better of each other, it became apparent that some customers preferred certain types of free bets to others.
Also, the capabilities of the internet and software development continued to increase as well, which helped gambling companies to be able to differentiate themselves considerably from one another. This is one important reason why firms knew that they could justify implementing creative changes to the free bet concept.
Having the ability to essentially now customise a site to suit a brand’s direction helped them to gain a sense of identity which customers found that they could relate to; all an important factor following a free bet.
There are several different elements that the best gambling companies knew that they needed to maximise in order to retain customers and now that more technological software advancements could be implemented, it became more important than before to get it right.
A free bet, regardless of the value or variation, was no longer enough; types of games, aesthetics, functionality, in-game bonuses, VIP scheme – these all played a part in securing long term customers.
Essentially, a free bet acts as a lever, with the role being to help convert prospects into customers, so it is up to the company to ensure that a visitor’s experience is fulfilling enough to warrant them depositing on a long term basis.
Types Of Offer Gambling Companies Use To Incentivise
As we have ascertained, gambling firms use a wide variety of introductory incentives to entice customers to their websites. Most of the time, a lot of thought is put into which type of offer to use by each company and this depends on a number of factors.
In some cases, gambling firms research extensively to understand which kind of welcome deal will suit their target customer, based on historical data, while in others, they may feel that they have a particular kind of product that is better suited to a type of free bet. As such, this product could be advertised to the customer after they claim their offer.
Each type of free bet campaign though, is thought out extensively and quite often, online gambling websites already usually know roughly how many people will take them up on this, and the amount of people who will convert.
The number of incentives that are available range in terms of how they are used by some gambling firms. While some are utilised as new customer offers, others are sent to existing customers in the form of token free bets, in small denominations such as a ‘Free £1 or £2 Bet’ on a certain event, with these usually being sent via text or email.
Furthermore, some gambling companies employ the ‘enhanced odds’ tactic for a specific outcome on a particular event, which although not a free bet, often punters sometimes will find that they get a similar level of value.
However, in terms of welcome offers there are a number of ‘free bet’ based products that companies offer, each having their own unique selling points.
These are usually the most popular offers for punters, usually because they are risk free for the customer. The first type of welcome bonuses to be offered online, mainly they simply require the punter to opt in to quickly register filling in a couple of fields before receiving funds to their new betting account.
The good thing about this is that customers don’t have to risk their own cash and still usually have a decent amount to play with at their disposal which is generally in the £5 region. This is a great way for a customer to familiarise themselves with what is a great offering of products, particularly if they prefer casino games or slots.
An interesting variation on the free bet, these, as the name suggests, require the customer to make a small deposit first before receiving what is usually quite a significant amount in free bets.
Often this type of offer is more attractive to more seasoned punters who see the value, while the companies who offer these are usually quite well established with a considerably robust website so understand that they can retain customers due to the quality of their offering.
Essentially an online casino equivalent of a traditional free bet, this allows customers to take a number of free spins on slot games with the possibility of winning different amounts. The free spins initiative started as casino-only websites started to become popular, especially from 2010 onwards.
Companies found this to be a very popular tactic to bring in new customers; most slots are designed in a way that encourages customers to keep wagering and are one of the most addictive products in the world online gambling. Fundamentally, this proved to be a masterstroke as far as free bets were concerned as 10 free spins could quickly lead to a series of deposits.
Taxation and Advertising changes
In 2016, UK Chancellor at the time, George Osborne declared that all operators must pay a 15 per cent free bet or discounted online bet tax for both online casino and bingo games.
It consequently meant that operators had to be even more savvy and strategic when deciding when to use free bets and what type of free bets to use, knowing that they had to factor this into their financial forecasting.
However, since inception, free bets are still as commonplace as ever and just as innovative, almost as if gambling companies haven’t been affected at all by the recent legislation.
Now all advertising communications around free bets, whether this be outbound messages, website marketing or in-shop, gambling companies have to clearly specify certain terms and conditions.
These conditions refer to a customer’s ability to understand the promotion (so they emphasise no jargon) and also are likely to include any requirement for a customer to deposit their own funds, dialogue around restricted odds, eligibility, wagering and withdrawal requirements.
Most of the complaints pertaining to the marketing of free bets in adverts refer to the fact that some gambling companies didn’t used to stipulate the fact that customers had to deposit funds to access their free bet, which caused considerable controversy.
At the time, when free bet advertising changes came into force, the Director of the Committees of Advertising Practice, Shariar Coupal was particularly staunch about where the company stood on the matter.
“We won’t tolerate gambling ads that exploit people’s vulnerabilities or play fast and loose with eye-catching free bet and bonus offers. Our new guidance takes account of the best available evidence to strengthen the protections already in place, ensuring that gambling is presented responsibly, minimising the potential for harm.”
What Does The Future Hold For Free Bets?
There has always been innovation in and around the gambling industry and it seems that it is in a constant game of cat and mouse with the authorities to find loopholes around new laws.
Also, every company competes with one another to gain an advantage which means that firms are always likely to find new versions of free bets.
With continuous developments in the world of technology as well, especially mobile, it could become easier than ever for gambling companies to communicate free bets to their customer base.
One thing though, is for certain; when it comes to free bet legislation, gambling companies now know, firmly where the line is and if they choose to cross it, they are aware of the consequences.
Free bets as they were when they first started no longer exist and as far as it goes in the gambling industry, you definitely don’t get something for nothing. Not even the bookie.