Risk-Free Bet Strategy (and the catch to these “no sweat bet” promotions)

Risk-free bets, also called no sweat bets by some sportsbooks, are promotional bets that allow you to place a bet and get your bet back if you lose.

But is this really “risk-free?”

Spoiler alert: it’s not.

There are 3 catches to watch out for risk free bets, but I still think risk free bets are one of the best ways to build up your account, especially early in your gambling “career.”

Let’s start with the risks of risk-free bets:

3 Catches of Risk-Free Bet Promotions

How do risk free bets work?

The best way to explain is to talk about what to watch out for.

Risk-free bets fine print can vary, so the risks can vary. But there are a few common mistakes to watch out for:

1. You don’t get your money back if you lose, so it’s not risk free.

Risk free bets aren’t actually risk-free. If you lose your bet, you don’t get your money back. You get a credit to bet again. If you lose the second best, you lose all your money.

This is super important to stress, especially if you’re sucked into a promo to make a much higher bet than your normal would (FanDuel’s $1,000 risk free bet, anyone?)

A better name would be “reduced risk bet,” but the marketing teams don’t like that nearly as much.

2. You win half as much if you win your “risk-free” bet.

The first point many people understand, but I think this one is less understood by new bettors.

Let’s start with an explanation of how risk-free or “no sweat” bets work:

You place a bet that is within the terms of the promotion (usually the fine print isn’t too bad, but more on that later). If you win, you win – it’s like you never had a promotion. If you lose, you get a bet credit in the amount of your bet. Then, you can use this credit to make another bet.

This is where it gets a little confusing, and why you’ll only win half. If you win with your promotional bet, you’ll get the winnings but not the bet back for the promotion. An example might help:

Let’s say you have a $5,000 risk-free bet. To make it easy, let’s say that your bet has +100 odds. This means, if you win the bet, the Sportsbook will give you $10,000: your $5,000 you bet back + $5,000 you won.

Now let’s say you lose your first bet. The sportsbook will take your $5,000 you bet, but it will give you $5,000 in a free bet(s). You can use that $5,000 free bet to place another bet on a game with +100 odds (check out our article on how sports betting odds work if you don’t understand odds payouts). If you win this bet, the sportsbook will give you $5,000 winnings, but since you didn’t bet with real money, they won’t give your $5,000 bet money back.

(FYI: your promotional bet doesn’t have to be the same odds as your first bet, I just used that to make the example easy)

So here’s example of what can happen so far (will use an example of an account with $1,000 that is all placed on a no-risk bet with +100 odds):

  • you win your first $1,000 bet: your account now has $2,000 cash in it
  • you lose your first $1,000 bet, but you win your next $1,000 “free bet:” your account now has $1,000 in it
  • you lose your first $1,000 bet, and you lose your next $1,000 “free bet:” your account has $0 in it 🙁

(you can do different odds on the next bet this just makes the example easy)

3. Fine print can lead to bad bets

Fine print is actually what inspired me to write this article

Usually, you don’t have to sweat the fine print of risk-free bets. It’s pretty straightforward, like the bet has to within the amount of the promotion.

So if it’s $1,000 risk free bet or $500 risk-free bet, your bet won’t qualify if it’s over $1,000 or $500, respectively. Sometimes it will qualify, but your “free” bets will be capped at the amount listed.

The most common fine print is minimum odds. You can read that article for more, but many will say your bet has to be -200 or more (-220, -300, etc bets don’t count). You can read this article on minimum odds if you want to know why they do this, or more explanation.

The other common fine print to look out for is you only get your bet back if you place a specific type of bet. I’ve personally never seen this in an introductory offer to sign up for a sportsbook, but it is common on random promotions when you’ve already been betting.

The most common one I hate is it may require a parlay of some type. This was my motivation for writing this. Draftkings had a promotional image on the top of the page that said “No Sweat NBA Bet.” I was about to use it, and then happened to read the fine print that said it had to be a same game parlay.

The bad part of this type of fine print is you don’t know it until you lose your bet and don’t get it back (yeah, it’s happened to me).

You also may have a time limit on your free bet. 14-30 days is common, but definitely fine print to look out for. If you don’t place your promotional bet in this time, you’ll lose it.

So moral of the story: read the fine print! It’s usually short and in bullet points.

Strategies for “Risk Free or No Sweat” Bet Promotions

I thought it was important to cover the negatives of risk-free/no sweat bets first.

But risk-free sportsbook promotions are one of the biggest reasons I’ve been so profitable sports betting.

So let’s cover a few important strategies for your promotional bet if you don’t have a huge bankroll to start:

Why not having a huge bankroll?

1. The surprising way to maximize your expected winnings (that I don’t always agree with)

The best way to maximize your expected winning with a risk-free bet promotion is to take a risky or high odds bet. There is complex math I could show on why this is, but here’s the simple reason:

The only way you benefit from a a “risk-free” bet promotion is if you lose your first bet.

All bets have an expected return of $0 (this isn’t exactly true–most bets have slightly negative and some bets like risk prop bets even more negative due to a bigger hidden commission by the sportsbook)

Let use an example if you bet $100 on a riskier bet (+200) vs a less risky bet (-100). Here are the expectations based on the odds

  • +200 bet you have a 33% chance of profiting $200, but 67% chance of losing $100
  • -200 bet you have a 67% chance of profiting $50, and a 33% chance of losing $100

When you go through the math, both the +200 and the -200 bets you’re expected to not win or lose money if you made a bunch of bets with the same odds. The +200 you’d just win more less often, and the -200 you’d win more often but less money.

But here’s the interesting part of the math on risk-free bets: the only thing that changes in the risk-free promotions is losing is more valuable. This means that the bets with higher chances of losing now have a higher expected profit than bets with lower chances of losing.

Hopefully that all makes sense, but if not, here’s the moral of the story: riskier bets have a higher expected profit.

Now, why don’t I always agree that you should make a risky bet on these promotions? Because you risk being “game over” if you lose it, and that’s not fun. Let me explain more…

2. Promotional bet vs amount you’re willing to lose will determine your strategy

In point #1, I covered that riskier no-sweat bets = higher expected profit.

But the problem is, the math works best in your favor when you have multiple bets.

Let’s use an exaggerated analogy of a game where you pay $100 to roll a die. You can either play the risky game or the less risky game

  • risky game: If you roll a “1,” you win $1-million dollars. But if you roll a 2-6, you lose your $100.
  • less risky game: If you roll a “1,” you lose your $100. But if you roll a 2-6, you win $200.

From an expected winnings standpoint, the smart choice is unquestionable the risky game. But… chances are you’re going to lose $100 on any one given roll.

If you get to play this game multiple times, your chances of winning a million dollars increase significantly. In fact, if you roll 10 times, you have over an 80% chance of winning a million dollars (I’ll save you the math). That million dollars will far exceed the 9 other times you lost $100.

So the more you play the more comfortable you’ll be. But the interesting part, the amount of rolls you get shouldn’t change your decision to take the riskier bet in this case. Either way, each roll you have the opportunity to win a million far exceeds your risk of losing $100.

But in reality, the theory doesn’t work in my opinion, and it all has to do with your bankroll. Sometimes you need to be more sure you’re going to win. How do you make the decision?

If the free promotional bet is a big portion of your bankroll (the amount you’re willing to bet/lose betting long-term), than if you lose the bet you don’t just lose the money, you lose your opportunity to continue sports betting. That’s a value that doesn’t go into the equation.

So how do you chose how risky you should be?

There isn’t an exact answer, but here is my rule of thumb:

  • if the promotional bet is 10% (1/10) or less of your bankroll, go with the maximum expected winnings bet (-200 to -600).
  • if the promotional bet is close to half of your bankroll (40-60%), go with roughly an even odds bet (-125 to +125 odds).
  • if the promotional bet is a big portion of your bankroll (75%+), go with a less risky bet (-200 to -300) and just try to take a win

These are rough suggestions to give you a guide of my thinking. These also assume you have one shot at a promotional bet, which leads to the next strategy:

3. Get as many free promotional bets as you can

These promotional bets are great, and they can be a big part of taking your gambling money from a small pot to a respectable bankroll.

So take advantage of as many of them as you can!

Most sportsbooks offer these promotions, so I’d try to go through as many as you can. You can always take your money out later.

There’s also an added benefit:

The more of these promos you do, the more you can take the riskier and higher payout strategy we described above. So it’s like a bonus on top of a bonus, and that’s how you start positive momentum.

4. Strategy for your “bonus” bet after you lose

So far, I’ve covered how to maximize your wins, but we focused on what bet to make on your first bet. Should you use the same strategy on the “free” bet?

For the most part, yes. You want to use the riskier bet again here. It goes back to the fact that the “free bet” isn’t the same as a normal bet (see #2 in the red flags section). I won’t get into the expected value math, but here’s the summary:

The reason is you don’t get your original money back with the free bet, so if you win a really low risk bet, you’ll hardly get any money back. In example, let’s say you lose a $100 promotional bet, and then you get a free bet credit. You take a low risk -500 bet and you win. Now, you get $20 in winnings, but you originally bet $100 so you actually still lose $80.

  • the lower/less risk your odds, the closer the expected value of your bet is to $0
  • the higher/more risk your odds, the closer the expected value of your bet is to your original bet

But same warning as last night: the tradeoff of higher expected value, is you’re more likely to lose all your money. Refer back to my rules of thumb in #2, and I might be even a little less risky with this free bet.

Final thoughts on “risk free” and “no sweat” bet promotions

Risk-free and no-sweat bets make an average joe have better chances of success than a sharp, but you have to watch out for the traps. Maybe, the most important trap is that these aren’t risk-free bets at all (a little misleading name).

The strategy that is expected to win you the most is also the one that you’re most likely to lose all of your money (kind of weird, but it’s math). Regardless, winning the most money is the name of the game so you should with the riskiest bets for your first bet and your promotional bet. If you’re going risky, don’t do it at the sake of giving up juice.

Unless… that “risk-free” bet is a major chunk of your bankroll. Then, I think you need to play it safe and go with lower odds.

The ultimate goal is to make the most money, but you can’t do it if you don’t stay in the game. Read more of our sports gambling strategies here.

FAQ on Risk-Free Bet Promotions

I made a small bet for my first bet in my account. Can I use different bet for my risk free bet?

Sorry, but no. The promotions that offer a risk-free bet when you open your account only count on your very first bet.

Who has the best free bet promotion?

Risk free bet promotions are constantly changing. At the time of writing, Draftkings, Fanduel, and MGM all have $1,000 risk-free bets. PointsBet has $500, and Caesars is the winner with a $1,250 risk free bet. Sometimes these also have other promotions attached, or they may have alternative promotions you can’t do if you choose this one.

If I lose my bet, do I have to use the promotional bet all at once?

Most of the time sportsbooks will let you break up the promotional bet, but this isn’t always the case. Also, how they do it varies. Last I checked, BetMGM would automatically break your bet up into 5 bets, and FanDuel would like you break your bet up however you’d like.

You need to make your big bet your first bet. Some people ask, “I made a $5 bet to start my betting account. Can I use another bet for my risk-free bet?”