Clearing an online poker-site bonus is pretty simple, since the site software will keep track of all details, but there are certain things you should know. Online poker sites offer cash-back bonuses to join and continue playing on their websites and you’ll want to learn how to clear that bonus before starting your live play.

The initial signup bonus offered by a poker site is a great incentive to play for real money, but make sure your read the fine print to quantify each bonus and compare the top sites’ offers before making your decision on where to play. Typically you will be required to play thousands of raked hands to get your bonus, but at 60+ hands per hour it will go quickly.

Online play is legal in many countries around the world. Currently, the US does not allow online gaming, but some states have a gray area that does allow wagering, especially on poker. At this time, the listing of those specific states will not be offered here, but many states, led by Nevada and Maryland, are gearing up to allow legal, intrastate games. This means players must signup in one state and will play live games for real money with other persons in the state, online.

Obviously, once several states have viable online poker systems in place there will be even more interest in Washington D.C. to find a way to offer poker nationwide – and to tax the proceeds. Expect to hear a lot about this in 2013! Regardless of when cash games start, you can play online poker for free at many great sites!

Online Poker Bonuses

When Nevada finally gets the bugs out of their online poker regulations there will be several companies like IGT and Southpoint Poker offering games. To entice players, they will likely offer a bonus for all new players who signup to use their poker site. The hope is that the bonuses will rival those of established legal sites like William Hill and Poker Stars.

Without suggesting that you join any specific poker site, understand that the bonuses offered will vary at each site. Some offer a monthly amount, such as $50, which is automatically transferred to a player’s account as soon as they play a specific number of qualifying hands – such as 1000 hands with a rake of at least $1.

The rake is the amount taken out of each pot before it goes to the winner of each hand. In live casinos, the low-limit poker games usually take a rake of 10 percent up to $4. Online, the rake is similar, but will be collected to the penny. The best poker sites aggregate all rake collected based on each player’s own involvement. When this is the case, the amount of money you put in the pot is converted to a percentage of the rake take. Using Poker Stars as an example, say the total pot is $100, and $3 of rake is collected. A total of 16.5 points are awarded to the table. If you contributed $10 to the pot before folding, you put in 10 percent of the total, so you receive 1.65 points. The site automatically keeps track of all the points you earn.

In this Poker Stars example, a new player trying to release a bonus must earn 17 points for every dollar. Each time the player has accumulated 170 points, $10 in bonus money will be released to their cash balance. Use this example as a base to compare other poker sites and their bonuses! And, make sure you read each site’s rules and regulations so you know how long you have to clear each bonus (Poker Stars currently allows six months).

Most sites offer both live play and tournaments. To accommodate tournament players, a point scheme is also offered for tournament fees. If a tournament has a $20 buy-in and a fee of $1, the player is given credit for that $1 fee much like they are given credit for any rake paid. At William Hill, 25 WHPoints are credited to the player’s account for every $1.00 raked on cash tables or $1.00 in tournament fees paid. Then the player receives $5 of their new-player bonus for every 425 WHPoints they earn.

Other Bonuses

Signup bonuses are great, but many poker sites also offer redeposit bonuses, so if you put more money into your account you can earn some free cash to. There is usually a short window of time when you can get these, and you may not be eligible if you just withdrew cash from your account. Read the rules and prepare for the next offering.

Monthly bonuses and loyalty programs are also popular at poker sites. You’ll need to read the specifics for each program, but loyalty bonuses work out to a small amount of cash for the total hours (and rake paid) a player is in action. However, while the actual cash earned may be small, players also earn an entry into freeroll tournaments. These tournaments offer cash prizes but have no buy-in or fees. You can expect these to have thousands of players, but the play will be brisk, especially if the games are no-limit, as players often go all-in repeatedly at the beginning.

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