Bonus Hunting: The Glory Years

The year was 2002 and as a (fairly) recent graduate, I was typically penniless. Having recently started my first permanent job, and already beginning to hate it, I lived for the weekends. But with a newly acquired mortgage to pay off, an overdraft, and student loan payments as well, funds were limited.

It was then that a friend of mine suggested I try my hand at online casino bonus hunting. These days, most people in the online gambling community know all about this, but you have to remember that back in those days, online casinos had only existed for a couple of years. They weren’t advertised on TV, or even in many places at all. And the idea of turning their bonuses into cash was almost unheard of.

The good news was, that meant the casinos hadn’t thought of it either!

How It Worked

Typically, most online casinos at the time were offering a 100% match bonus of £100 or $100. The kicker was, in those days they were only subject to 3x wagering requirements. Yes, I said 3! Compare that to the 40x or 50x you see today, and you’ll see why these were indeed the glory days.

So off I went and opened my first online casino account. I remember it clearly, it was at 7 Sultans and they had 100% bonus of $100, as well as a $10 no deposit bonus. So I downloaded the software (yes you had to do that in those days, there was no browser based play), registered my credit card (which was not quite up to the limit thankfully) and deposited my $100. Sure enough, there was $210 in my account. Happy days.

Next was to acquaint myself with blackjack basic strategy. Most casinos in those days had single deck blackjack which meant that by following basic strategy, your estimated return was 97%. Playing at minimum stake of $2 per hand, we would have to play 315 hands to fulfill the wagering requirements – although we tended to do a few more just to be on the safe side. Mathematically, you’d expect to end up with around $190 when it was time to withdraw. Sometimes more, sometimes less – but yes it did average out as expected.

I’d printed out the basic strategy tables at work, and had them next to my keyboard. On the other side, I had a blank piece of A4 where I made my tally charts, simply ticking off each hand as I played it (or 2 ticks if I’d split or doubled).

What Happened

It was slow going the first time as I checked the rules to see what to do on every hand. It’s surprising how quickly you memorize them though, and before long I was playing almost on autopilot. So while at first it took a few hours to get through the wagering requirements, I soon had it down to an hour or less.

So yes, after my first session at 7 Sultans, I duly withdraw around $190 and was pretty chuffed. A $90 profit for an impoverished youngster was good going.

So I did it again. And again. And again.

7 Sultans was followed by Rio Grand. Then it was River Belle and Aces High. Then a whole bunch more that I can’t even remember the names of now, but I think there were 15-20 in total. I played them all and finished about £1000 ahead.

Lovely. But what now?

Well, I wasn’t without friends. Maybe they’d like to get involved as well. But they weren’t as well versed in basic strategy as I was, so we figured it was probably best if I played on their behalf, and we split the cash 60/40.

Friends With Benefits

So that’s what I did. Many times over. In the end, the casinos started to get wise to it (not just because of me I hasten to add) and duly upped their wagering requirements to levels that meant it wasn’t worth playing any more. But not before I personally had banked around £6k, and several of my friends had made anywhere between £500 and £1k for doing absolutely nothing.

In my financial situation at the time, this was the perfect system. I wouldn’t bother these days with ridiculous 40x wagering requirements, but back in the day this was the very first betting strategy that I really made a success of.

So to all the folks at 7 Sultans, River Belle and all the rest – a big thank you for your generosity! You’ve helped make Manny into the seasoned online gambler I am today. And you paid off my student loan too.