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A Guide to Online Poker Promotions

One of the benefits to playing poker online are all the promotions.

Nearly every poker site offers deposit bonuses, reload bonuses, free cash, VIP perks, and so on. And all these incentives have value. They’re worth something.

This is important to wrap your head around. Here’s why:

For winning poker players, these various incentives can add to your bottom line. Sometimes it’s in the form of cash, while other times it’s a free tournament entry or discounted merchandise.

Whatever the case, it adds to your overall profit or win-rate. I’ve even known winning players who have broken even at high stakes games, but have profited immensely from the points earned playing a large volume of these games.

On the other end of the spectrum, poker promotions can keep your bankroll afloat during rough bouts of variance, or if you’re still trying to get the hang of this ‘online poker thing.’ The extra money can keep you from going broke.

The bottom line – you shouldn’t ignore online poker promotions. Doing so is no different than lighting money on fire.

Why Do Poker Sites Offer Promotions?

For the same reason ANY business offers deals. Poker sites want to:

  • Encourage new customers to check them out; to create an account and (eventually) make a real money deposit.
  • Encourage existing players to stick around, and play more often.
  • Create buzz. For example, guaranteed tournaments and satellites to live tournaments are often covered on media and news publication sites.
  • Increase brand awareness. Between tournament buzz, their poker pros, players wearing their logos on their shirts, and so on – it all gets the word out about the poker site. It keeps it fresh in their minds.

A great example – one of the best, actually – is PokerStars. They tick all the boxes.

For example:

  • They have a $600 deposit bonus and free cash offer for new players.
  • They offer reload bonuses, cash offers, VIP schemes, tournaments, freerolls and more, for existing players.
  • PokerStars creates plenty of buzz between their Sunday Majors – their MASSIVE Sunday guaranteed tournament schedule – their SCOOP and WCOOP tournament series’ and many live events held around the world that they either own and/or sponsor.
  • PokerStars promotes their brand every chance they get. Many tournaments are named and/or sponsored by them. They also have many pros who play for them and wear their apparel/patches during live events.

And here’s another PokerStars example that almost ticks every one of the boxes above.

Chris Moneymaker – once a normal guy like you or me – won a PokerStars satellite that paid his way into the 2003 WSOP Main Event ($10,000). Moneymaker won that for $2,500,000, started the poker boom, and now travels the circuit signing autographs and promoting PokerStars.

How’s that for offers, buzz and branding?

Types of Online Poker Promotions

Poker sites offer many types of promotions. But there are a few common incentives you’ll find from nearly every site online. If you’re an experienced online gambler, chances are you’ll already be familiar with some of these.

Welcome (Deposit) Bonuses – These are offers marketed to new customers. The idea is simple – when you make a deposit, the poker room will match a percentage of your deposit up to so many dollars.

For example, 888 Poker is offering a 100% match bonus up to $400. For every dollar you deposit, 888 will give you an extra dollar to play with. Take advantage of the entire offer and you’ll have an $800 bankroll.

Sometimes poker rooms will sweeten their deposit bonus with free cash or tournament entries. When you create your account at 888, not only will you get their 100% deposit bonus, but you’ll also receive 10 entries to 3 different poker tournaments with more than $5,000 guaranteed between them.

Reload Bonuses – These are identical to welcome bonuses, except they’re for existing customers. Sometimes these are marketed as a ‘reward’ for being a customer, while other times it’s to encourage dormant customers to come back and start playing again.

Reload bonuses vary in size, but are often smaller than welcome bonuses.

Free Cash – These are small cash deals some rooms offer to new players. Usually, no deposit is required, though some rooms will ask you to deposit and play if you want to play and cash out the money or any monies won.

VIP Programs – Loyalty programs are hands down the best deals offered by poker rooms – if the room has developed a good program.

As you play, most rooms will give you ‘player points.’ These will accumulate in your player account and serve many different purposes, including:

  • Clearing your bonuses.
  • Establishing your VIP status or tier.
  • Saving up so you can later spend them on tournaments or merchandise.

VIP programs vary wildly from site to site. Some of the best loyalty programs will offer cash back or cash bonuses in exchange for points, as well as exclusive freerolls, tournaments, discounted or waived banking fees, points multipliers, and a heck of a lot more.

Tournaments – There are a few types of tournaments often touted by rooms as ‘promotions.’ Those include:

  • Satellites – The talked about satellite tournaments are the ones where, if you win, you’ll receive a seat to big dollar live events, such as the PCA or WSOP. Usually these have a 3-5-figure entry fee and 6-8-figure prize pools. Many of these also come with airfare, room and board paid for.
  • Guaranteed Tournaments – These include the ‘majors’ you see with $40,000+ guaranteed. Great examples include PokerStars Sunday Million, Ignition Poker’s $100,000 GTD or 888 Poker’s $40,000 Mega Turbo Deep.
  • Pro Tip: You can find massive value from guaranteed tournaments offered at new poker sites. Often the number of registered players for any given tournament isn’t enough to meet the guarantee, so the poker room has to cover the difference. These are called ‘overlays,’ and they’re valuable because you have the same guaranteed prize pool, but fewer players to beat to win any of it.

  • Freeroll Tournaments – These mostly include exclusive tournaments offered to new customers or VIP members – tournaments with no buy-in that’s closed off to the public.
  • Step Tournament – These are usually multi-level satellite tournaments that increase in both buy-in and payout as you move up in steps. The twist here is you can start with any tournament you want, and when you win you progress to the next step. But if you lose, often times you get to redo that step (tournament) or move down a level. These have LOTS of entertainment/replay value and are a great bang for your buck.
  • Leaderboards – These are usually reserved for tournaments (MTTs and SNGs), but sometimes you’ll find some for cash game players, too. The general idea is there’s a competition – it can be money won, number of hands or games played, and so on. Whoever does the best during a specific time frame will earn a spot on a leaderboard, which often also leads to a cash prize.
  • 2x Points / Happy Hour – Many rooms offer a ‘happy hour’ promotions where, if you play cash and/or tournaments during a specific day and time, you’ll earn 2x or more the normal amount of player points. These usually won’t apply to clearing your deposit bonuses (faster), but DO apply to earning points for VIP levels, cash back, merchandise and so on.

These are the core promotions you’ll find from online poker sites. But not all of them are worth your time or focus. Let’s talk about the offers poker players should focus on most.

Which Promotions Should You Focus On?

The lame answer: It depends on what type of player you are.

The more specific answer…

If you’re a recreational player – you play only a few hands or tournaments per week – then it will probably make more sense to focus on the short-term perks. Find a poker site with an excellent deposit bonus, cash offer, guaranteed tournaments and freerolls.

There’s still a lot of value, but your earning potential is capped and usually short lived. It’s also going to vary a lot from player to player, when you consider the amount of skill/luck needed to cash in tournaments.

Now, if you’re someone who plays consistently, or you’re a PT/FT professional player, our suggestion is to find a poker site with an excellent VIP structure.

Here’s why:

We know of players (friends, coaches, etc.) who played the highest stakes SNGs on PokerStars and made GREAT money. But they didn’t make their money from those games – not on ROI’s smaller than 5 percent.

In fact, many of them broke even on those games.

How they made their money was by playing enough volume to earn enough points to become Supernova Elite VIPs.

(This was before PokerStars changed their VIP program, which was widely criticized.)

Back then you could earn something like $100,000 in cash back PLUS players received two live tournament entries valued at around $10,000 each.

The point is – you could break even, but make a solid 6-figure income with the potential to earn a lot more from the live tournament entries.

You just need to find a good VIP program.

Explaining how to find one is an article in itself – because a lot of it comes down to the types of games you play, the stakes, the volume you can play, and so on. Then you still have the VIP program itself to think about.

PokerStars is still a good example despite their changes. Most of the pros we know still play there. You can see their current rewards program here.

The bottom line – VIP programs are best for serious players because it’s more of a long term view. You focus less on the immediate cash value of a deposit bonus – which may earn you $500-$2,000 – in exchange for finding a poker site with a VIP program that offers multiples of that spread out over months and years.

The Catch

Yes, that’s right – there is a catch. You’re crazy if you think poker sites are just giving this stuff away for free. They’re in this to make money, you know.

That said, the catch is a bit different for online poker than it is online casinos. Online casinos usually give you your bonus money upfront, then you have to work it off.

Online poker is different. You play and unlock bits of your bonus as you go.

(This is called a rollover or playthrough.)

What happens is this – you’ll have your total bonus sitting in your account. As you play you’ll earn points. Once you earn enough points – which varies from site to site – you’ll unlock bits and pieces of your bonus. You’ll continue until you’ve received it all, or until it expires.

For example, PokerStars offers a $600 bonus. If you deposit/play in USD, you’ll need to earn 200 VPPs for every $10 of your bonus.

How fast you earn those points (and therefore your bonus) will depend on how many points you get paid for every $1 (or whatever) you pay in rake.

This is something you want to pay attention to and compare between sites. You want to compare bonus size, but more important the rake structures for the games you’re going to play so you can find the easiest bonus to clear.

Pro Tip: We don’t recommend worrying about this too much if you’re not going to deposit a large amount, or if you don’t plan to play a lot.

You also want to pay attention to time constraints. Most rooms put a time limit on their deposit bonuses. For example, PokerStars gives you up to 3 deposits and 4 months to clear your bonus.

That’s pretty dang good. Especially when compared to other rooms.

Most poker sites give you 1 deposit and 30-60 days. For example, you get one deposit and 30 days at Ignition Poker. Bodog gives you one deposit and 60 days.

So, to summarize – you want to compare bonus size, points earned per $ paid in rake, rake structures for the games you play, and the time constraints you have on the deposit bonus.

Only then will you find the best bonus offer.

Pro Tip: We stress comparing these details for clearing the deposit bonus, but they’re equally important – if not more so – to compare when comparing VIP programs since you have to earn points to receive any benefits. You might as well find the room where you do the least amount of work for the most perks.

The rollover or playthrough is probably the biggest ‘catch’ when it comes to online poker promotions. But there are other things you’ll want to look for or pay attention to, depending on the offer you plan on claiming.

For example:

  • Some deposit bonuses and cash offers are not cashable. Meaning you can only cash out your winnings.
  • If you play for a live satellite event, you may or may not be able to sell that seat or any part of the package (hotel, travel, accommodations, etc.).
  • If you play for and win a live tournament seat, you may or may not have to pay for your own travel, room and board, food, entertainment, etc.
  • If you play for and win a live tournament seat, you may or may not have to wear apparel issued from the poker site.

There are many more, and they’ll vary wildly from one poker site to the next. The best thing you can do is comb the terms and conditions for every poker site you have an account with. Because there’s no excuse for ignorance – especially when it can cost you money.


Poker promotions often don’t have the instant ‘wow’ factor of thousands of dollars in casino bonuses, progressive jackpots, or the payouts of big parlay sports bet.

But there’s a ton of value to be had if you know what you’re looking for.

Poker promotions can add to your bottom line, or keep you from going broke. You can even break even on all your sessions and still turn a profit.

(Like we said, we’ve known several players who’ve done just that. Not fish, either, but full time professional poker players.)

The bottom line is this – no matter who you are, or what your skill level is, you can put more money in your pocket with online poker promotions.

It pays to pay attention to them.