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It is only natural to be attracted by the promise of something for nothing. That’s why, in the race to gain new customers, nothing works quite so effectively for businesses as a free sample. This is just as true in sports wagering as it is in selling cakes or fruit, and in the arena of bookmaking, the equivalent of a sample to nibble on is the free bet.

Online sportsbooks tend to offer two kinds of free bets: wager matching and deposit matching. In the former, the book will match the bettor’s wager with an identical one, essentially doubling the potential payout. In the latter, to quality for additional cash to be used as free bets, a financial account must be created and a certain amount of funds transferred into it. To avoid post-consumption "indigestion", bettors are advised to read the Terms and Conditions carefully before accepting either type of free bet.

For example, the high street bookmaker known as Coral has offered a free bet of up to £10 for opening an online betting account. The bonus is delivered as a match of the very first bet made, up to a maximum of £10. To claim the full amount, the wager can be no less than £10. It’s helps as an inducement to bet more on a single contest than one might wager otherwise for the possibility of double rewards.

Sky Bet has a free bet offer that looks strikingly similar to Coral’s—matching the first bet made up to £10. But a close reading of the T&C reveals that the wager must be “a single or each-way bet at 2/1 odds or greater.” This precludes betting on an even-money event or a heavy favourite - an inducement to take longer odds than one might otherwise accept.

The larger the free bet value is, the more likely there will be hoops to jump through to claim the full amount. Consider BetFred, a highly respected bookmaker. They offer “all new online, mobile and UK call centre customers a free bet of up to £50! A read of BetFred’s fine print is required to learn that certain methods of deposit are excluded from the offer. Also, residents of and credit/debit cards issued in more than two dozen countries are excluded. Regarding odds, bets must be made on “Evens (2.0) or better.” The minimum wager is £5, but the free bet applies only to the first bet made, so staking a full £50 is required to get the maximum value. And the free bet must be used within 30 days of opening the new account or else it expires.

Since making a bet of any amount requires setting up an account and putting some funds into it, the deposit-match free bets, with their higher values, appear to be the alternative of choice. For example, Bet365 makes this offer: “Open an account, make a deposit of £10 or more and you will be entitled to a 100% bonus of your qualifying deposit up to a maximum of £100. To qualify for the Bet365 offer, new players must enter a code they receive when they first register. Next, a “qualifying deposit” must be made—no less than £10, but at least £100 if the maximum bonus is desired. Before any of the free bet money can be used, the entire amount deposited must be played through. And before any winnings can be withdrawn, the player must play through the deposit and bonus at least three times. In other words, to claim any winnings from the full bonus, at least £600 must be wagered.

Other free bet schemes require a series of wagers or deposits in order to qualify for the full amount of free bets on offer. The online sportsbook known as Extrabet divides its £100 Free Bet Offer in two qualifying pieces, £25 and £75, while PaddyPower parcels its out as four separate free bets of £25, which necessitates making an additional four wagers between them or at least 20 wagers in all.