Bonus Whoring vs. Getting a Paper Route

Abulafia made some interesting observations in a post that was in response to some of my previous bonus whoring commentary. Specifically he says:

I’ve lost count of the amount of posts I’ve read of people multitabling to clear bonuses. Sitting down and baking in the glow of several screens on a Saturday morning to hit up some site for a monthly comp. And a large percentage seem to run close to breaking even. Sitting down for a morning og 8 table grind doesn’t strike me as a way to work on your game. And it sure as hell seems like a waste of a Saturday morning.

Wouldn’t a paper route be more profitable? It would sure as hell beat the hourly rate.

To test this theory out, I pulled an email from a promotion Paradise sent me in April for a 50% reload bonus, $50 max. Here’s the details of the offer:

Promotion Details: The Bonus Amount will be added to your Pending Bonus account where it will be held and automatically released to your cash account based on these easy requirements: For each raked game (minimum $0.25 rake) you play, you receive 1 point and at 100 points we move $10 from your Pending Bonus account to your cash account. You continue to collect points until you receive 100% of your Bonus money. Maximum bonus is $50. There are no deposit fees using VISA, MasterCard, NETeller or FirePay.

So, in order to earn a $50 bonus one would need to play 500 raked hands. Now, assuming that your game is at the level at which chasing a $50 bonus would put a nice little zing into your bankroll, we’ll assume that you only have the skill to play one table profitably. We’ll also assume that you get dealt 60 hands per hour. In fact, I think I’m being a little conservative here since most low limit games will see the river with multiple players which adds considerably more time to the total. But, let’s just go with 60 hands per hour for the sake of argument.

500 hands / 60 hands per hour = 8.3 hours of play to clear the bonus.

$50 bonus / 8.3 hours = $6.02 per hour.

According to the Department of Labor’s website, the minimum wage in California is $6.75 an hour and the US government minimum wage is $5.15.

At least in California, Abulafia’s contention that a paper route would be more profitable is actually pretty accurate (plus in sunny California you’re likely to get a nice tan and peddling your bike around every morning is highly likely to produce health benefits). Of course, this assumes that you break even and as we all know, in poker, there’s no guarantees of that.

I could go through the math for multi-tabeling but let’s just say that it doubles the win rate to $12. I’m pretty sure a unionized grocery clerk makes better than $12 an hour (and you have far less chance of getting rivered by a two outer). What about four tables? Well, if you can play four tables at X limit then you would be +EV working on moving up in limits over chasing bonuses anyway. Getting good at multi-table play for the purpose of chasing bonuses is like getting a degree in mathematics so you can calculate the correct change faster in your job as a street vendor.

What about the people who actually can beat a particular limit? Well, first off, much like Abulafia’s post confirms, my personal observation is that most of the blog and message board posts I’ve seen indicate that a significant percentage of the folks doing the bonus whoring are break-even players. Those that are better than break-even players need to look at the +/- EV considerations that I mentioned in this post.

And just because it seems like this needs to be a disclaimer I put on every post on this topic . . . taking advantage of a bonus isn’t the same as bonus whoring. Whenever the sites I play at offer bonuses I throw a few dollars in and try to get the bonus since I’m going to be playing there anyway and I’m not changing anything about the games I play or how many hands I’m playing. Bonus whoring is skipping around from site to site chasing bonuses. The site that slammed me recently, defines a bonus whore as:

“A Bonus Whore is someone who takes maximum advantage of the free money that poker sites will offer you for action at their site.”

Despite how defines it, the money isn’t free (the first rule of economics is there’s no such thing as a free lunch). Players make tradeoffs chasing bonuses. As a better than breakeven player taking advantage of a bonus at a site I already play at, I’m giving up interest income on my money and accepting the risk that this offshore company I’ve just sent $1000 or $2000 to isn’t going to go belly-up tomorrow and take all my money. I weigh those tradeoffs and decide whether or not I’m making a + or – EV choice. Bonus whoring, on the other hand, is unconcerned with whether or not the choice is + or – EV. The fact that bagging groceries at the local supermarket has a higher EV than the Paradise $50 reload isn’t a consideration for the bonus whore. They view it as free money and will go Neteller funds over to Paradise and crank out their 500 hands and move on to the next site offering a bonus.

In a way, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that most bonus whores are break-even players (or worse). Bonus whoring is a results focused activity and anybody who knows anything about poker can tell you that being results oriented is a major flaw in any poker player.

Bill Rini
Bill Rini is currently the Head of Online Poker for WSOP. He has been working in the online poker industry since 2004 and has held management roles at Full Tilt Poker and PartyPoker.