How to handle “free play” bets on sportsbooks

Some sportsbooks simply give you your bonus money as extra money in your account to do with as you see fit. These bonuses are my favorites, of course. However. many books give you the bonus as a “free play.” The rules for a free play are that you get to make a wager with the money, but you only keep what you win. You don’t keep the free play money (win or lose). So if you make a standard -110 bet with a $100 freeplay, you will get $91 if you win and $0 if you lose. This leads to some interesting math.

Obviously you prefer to win, since that leaves you with some money and losing leaves you with nothing. If you have nothing, you didn’t get a very good bonus at all.  So, let me pose a thought problem to you. Assume you have a $100 freeroll. Would you prefer a big favorite that pays -400 ($25 on every $100 wagered or $400 to win $100) that will win 100% of the time (let’s assume you have connections who can fix the outcome) or a bet that pays +400 and will win 10% of the time (It should win 25% of the time, but let’s assume there are very bad odds)?

Many people immediately say they’d rather have the guarenteed winner. They are wrong. Let’s assume you have 10 of these free plays. If you play the big favoprite that always wins, you will win $25 10 times or $250. If you play the $100 at +400, you’ll only win once, but you’ll win $400 the one time you do win. Furthermore, the real odds say that the +400 will win about 25% of the time and the -400 will win about 75% of the time, making the bet even worse for the favorite.

So clearly, you want to wager your free play on an underdog, to increase your leverage with the free money. But you may be saying to yourself that I told you that I prefer to bet where I don’t care who wins the game. You would be quite right. I don’t like risk all that much. Never fear, there is a way to handle these free plays in a risk-free manner.

Let’s return to our big underdog who pays +400 (a $400 payout on every $100 wagered). In the real world, it is very hard to find an underdog who pays +400 and a favorite who pays -400. That would leave no money for the book. You will find these from time to time, but not that often. So let’s assume a fairly normal vig for the books and say that the best line for the favorite is -450. You bet your $100 free money to win $400 on the underdog at one book and you bet $329 to win $71 at another book. If the favorite wins, you lose your free $100, but win $71 at the other book. If the underdog wins, you win $400 from your free play and lose $329 at the other book for a net win of $71.  Viola!  No matter which team wins, you gain $71. This way you lock in 71% of the free play no matter what happens. In my experience, you can pretty much always find a return of 70% or so of your free play. A return of 80% or more is extraordinary good and should be jumped on.

Calculating the correct amount for the off-setting bet is not intuitive, so I’ve built a Free Play Calculator using Excel that you can use for that purpose. You can play around it and eventually the relationships will start to make sense to you. Although you want a big underdog, you also want a reasonable vig. If you find a +1000 dog, but the favorite only pays -1500, it isn’t that good of a free play. Sometimes you might find a fairly small dog where the favorite pays such good odds that it is a good free play. Experiment and see what you find.

Good luck and let me know how it works for you.

By Nsidestrate

I'm a hard-core limit ring game poker player who is becoming a degenerate sports bettor. I'm sure it will all make more sense if you read on.