Online poker bonuses have been around for almost as long as online poker has. From the very beginning of the online poker phenomenon, when several poker rooms started competing for the same player-base, the necessity of some sort of promotional weapon became obvious.
The very first – and most rudimentary – of these player enticements, were the sign-up, a.k.a. first deposit bonuses. These usually took the sum the player deposited and matched it (50-100 or 200%) in order to give him motivation to play. These bonuses exist now too, and they have to be redeemed, they don’t directly go into the player’s real money account, but as long as a player works for his/her bonus, he/she is basically playing with a reduced rake.
This is all very nice, however, such first-deposit bonuses have a huge flaw: they only last for a while (some of them expire in a month’s time, even if they are not redeemed). As soon as the player unlocks all his bonus, he has no more reduced rake-advantage, and thus no motivation to play at the room he signed up for.
Rakeback vs sign-up bonuses: the eternal dispute. At micro stakes, bonus redemption has an edge over rakeback but at medium to high limits, rakeback firmly takes over. On top of that, rakeback never expires on any limit, and often bonuses are not subtracted from rakeback so you can enjoy them both without having to choose.
Sign-up bonuses gave birth to the phenomenon of "bonus whoring”, which is a fancy description for players going around on a perpetual hunt for a good bonus offer, and moving on as soon as they have it in their pocket. Bonus whoring specialists recommend that players sign up with several poker rooms, unlock their bonuses and then move on to another room.
Although those same experts also recommend players not to go back to the same room under a different account and exploit the same bonus offer again, in reality that’s exactly what happens most of the time. No matter how advanced a software is, it cannot do anything to detect the same player signing up again from a different IP and with a different username.
The question is: how well do sign-up bonuses serve poker rooms, and how well do they serve the players? Neither poker rooms nor players will like the answer to that question. From the player’s point of view: he signs up, plays well, generates a bunch of rake and unlocks his bonus in the process. When it’s all said and done, he no longer has a reason to hang about. All good poker players know, it is extremely difficult to beat the rake in Texas Holdem, without some sort of rake reduction. He has to move on, or he has to engage into all sort of shady schemes to continue playing at the same room.
From the room’s point of view: a players comes, deposits, starts playing, generates some rake, and leaves. Whenever a player makes like a tree, the poker room is at an obvious loss, especially if it’s a good player who generated tons of rake for them during his stay. Something has to be done, to retain that player, and keep his interest alive.
Loyalty bonuses are the obvious answer here: reward loyal players to keep them loyal. Re-deposit bonuses however, mostly miss the point. Sure, they’re nice, but if you look into matters a bit, they’re utterly useless. Usually they’re much smaller than first deposit bonuses, and they tend to reward the wrong type of player. (sure, depositing and losing has to be done by someone, too) What kind of player do you think re-deposits money in a poker room? A losing player, of course. A losing player generates a lot less rake on the whole, than a winning one, but then again, someone has to pump some funds into the industry as well. Not everyone can be a winner. In that respect, re-deposit bonuses are on target, however, they fail to appeal to winners, who have no intention of ever re-depositing, yet they make the most rake of all online poker players. They, once again, remain without motivation and leave.
The best type of loyalty bonuses are in some way linked to the rake generated by every individual player. This is exactly the reason why rakeback deals are so popular and so lucrative for pretty much every player, winner or loser. Rakeback allows players to play with reduced rake all the time, thus keeping up their interest and putting a brake on player migration. Cashback deals are pretty much the same.
Check out a rakeback forum if you’re interested in finding out what others consider to be the best rake return deals around. The rakeback community will also fill you in on which sites are trustworthy and which ones are operations set up overnight for the sake of a quick profit. Remember: playing even a single hand without the benefits of rakeback is far from optimal play.
Lately, some poker rooms have gone even further. They’ve decided that – since not all their players are equal – players who generate the most rake should be rewarded differently from those who are average or poor. Thus VIP programs were born.
VIP programs usually consist of rank-ladders, which categorize players into different levels of VIP memberships. The further up a player is on this scale, the more rakeback he gets.
This is just about the best loyalty enticement that ever existed. All players are urged to stay, via the rakeback, but those who are more valuable, are further motivated.
Play more – win more. Sounds like a fair-enough setup from the player’s point of view. From the poker room’s point of view, it is the best possible reward-system, too, for all the reasons I named above.