How casino incentives shape player behaviour

How casino incentives shape player behaviour

Bonuses and promotions are a big part of online gambling, often serving as the main feature which sets one casino apart from the next. Because of this, bonuses come in many different shapes and sizes, and their various psychological effects on players have been well observed.

Types of casino bonus

As a result of the highly competitive online casino market, a plethora of different bonus types have emerged. These tend to appeal to different types of players, depending on their personal preferences and styles of play, but all have a psychological impact.

Different types of bonuses have distinctly different psychological effects on players. Whether the casino is seeking to attract new players, reinforce brand loyalty, boost attention to a specific game, or simply keep players on the site for longer, there’s likely to be a bonus suited to their purpose.

No wagering bonuses

The vast majority of bonuses, whether they’re a bankroll boost or a bundle of free spins, come with wagering requirements. These essentially force the player to wager the value of the bonus, or of their winnings, a number of times before whatever may be left over can be withdrawn as actual cash, or wagered at the player’s discretion.

No wagering bonuses are highly sought after, as they enable players to keep all of what they win, raising the overall value of a bonus significantly. The no wagering casino bonus has a particularly strong influence on player behaviour, and is associated with feelings of reduced risk, increased trust and loyalty to the casino, and instant gratification because of the absence of wagering requirements.

The fact that these bonuses are perceived as being more valuable than their counterparts with wagering requirements only serves to increase their potency and psychological impact on the player, resulting in more engaged players, a more satisfying customer experience, and greater levels of player retention.

No deposit bonuses

Whereas most bonuses require a deposit to be made, so that the casino knows it stands a good chance of ultimately coming out on top, a no deposit bonus is one which is generally granted upon registration, with the casino essentially betting that the player will deposit funds of their own once the bonus has run out.

These are particularly appealing to players, as they offer a no-risk way to enjoy a flutter. However, they often come with strict wagering requirements or win limits.

Free spins

Free spins are a common reward given by casinos to players for meeting certain criteria. They range from small numbers of spins with a value of as little as £0.01 each, to bundles of hundreds of spins, potentially with a per-spin value of £0.20 or more.

Free spins can generally be used only on specific games, which can draw large numbers of players to a previously overlooked title. They often need to be used within a certain timeframe, and frequently come with wagering requirements.

Welcome bonuses

A welcome bonus is one offered to players who have yet to join a particular casino. They are intended to draw newcomers in through the promise of generous free spin bundles or deposit-matching bonuses, or frequently both. 

They generally reward players after they have registered and made their first deposit over a predefined minimum amount, but it’s not uncommon to find welcome bonuses which reward new players with some spins even before they deposit.

Whilst welcome bonuses are generally the most appealing, they can, of course, only be claimed once, after which the player will move onto reload bonuses or another site.

Reload bonuses

Providing reload bonuses is one of a number of techniques intended to encourage player loyalty, and to keep existing players happy. They can come in any form, and are frequently offered on a weekly basis. 

For example, a casino may offer, on a particular day of the week, a rotating reload bonus to players who deposit a certain amount on that day. Prizes include free spin bundles, further deposit bonuses, temporary cashback bonuses and more.


Cashback is less common than some of the bonus types mentioned above, but players do love it! Cashback essentially grants players a percentage of a player’s deposits or losses, depending on the bonus T&Cs, returned on a regular basis. These can be long-running or periodic.

For instance, a casino with a long-term cashback promo may give its players 10% of their losses back at the end of each week, for them to re-wager as they see fit. These can be particularly effective in encouraging brand loyalty.

Player psychology

The plethora of psychological effects which different bonuses can have are connected with the motivations of players, influencing their decision-making processes, and ultimately their behaviours.

Dopamine & conditioning

The psychological concept of conditioning applies to online casinos, rewarding desirable behaviours with free spins, additional bonuses, cash prizes, or sometimes even just cleverly-designed combinations of lights and sounds, encouraging players to keep spinning or wagering.

On a chemical level, in conditioning, the positive reward is dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure, which the brain releases at specific points whilst gambling.

When a bonus is released to a player, so is dopamine, positively reinforcing the mental association between the reward and their happiness. This encourages the player to keep playing, and to keep coming back for more. Dopamine is the reason for the ‘rush’ some people feel when gambling.


The player-casino relationship is an important one, and it goes both ways. This reciprocity feeds into player behaviour quite directly. 

For example, when a player is rewarded with a bonus, it creates a sense of obligation and loyalty to that casino, often making them feel, potentially on an unconscious level, some obligation towards the site, forming a bond and an inclination to keep on spinning.

Loss aversion

The negative emotions associated with losing have been found to be stronger than the positive emotions associated with winning. 

Bonuses manage to negate this negative effect by enabling the player to wager funds which aren’t technically theirs and take risks which they perhaps would not if they were playing with their own money. This minimises their feelings of loss, producing a happier player overall.


Cognitive biases are ways of thinking, some of which centre around an ‘anchor’. They can frequently produce errors in decision-making processes, but are central to patterns of behaviour and recurring thought processes.

In the context of casino bonuses, a welcome bonus may serve as an anchor, forming a strong association between a particular casino site and its value as perceived by the player. This, in turn, informs the player’s future decisions, encouraging them to keep coming back to the site which they associate with pleasure, reward and value.

Social proof

Casinos often display the latest winnings of other players, giving visitors to the site the impression that everyone else around them is winning money. 

Similarly, casinos give the impression that bonuses and jackpots are being enjoyed by many other players on the site, encouraging individuals to follow and replicate their behaviour, in an unconscious effort to acquire social standing and a position within a group.

Risk vs. reward

Bonuses appeal largely because they skew the balance of risk and reward, appearing to tip the odds in the favour of the player until their bonus is spent. By seemingly reducing risk, bonuses encourage players to make more daring wagering behaviours, and these behaviours may be repeated later when using their own funds.

Evolution of casino bonuses

Casino bonuses will continue to change, finding new ways to draw in customers and keep their attention. Through a wide range of psychological methods, these bonuses are likely to become more and more effective over time.

It is unclear what the bonuses of the future will look like, but, in designing and enhancing them, casinos will be sure to consider the relevant psychological literature. 

Author: Alan Morris