ANNAPOLIS – The Great Gas Giveaway Prize Patrol?
V-Power Fuel Your Drive Sweepstakes?
The Gold Standard Game?
You’ve never heard of them? That’s because you live in Maryland, where a law so old that no one can even remember why it was passed prohibits oil companies from running promotional giveaways and prize games that could result in free staters getting free gas.
Instead, oil company officials said, Marylanders are left with bobble-head dolls or Orioles tickets as compensation.
“It’s too bad you guys can’t participate in the giveaway,” said Julie Anderson, spokeswoman for Citgo marketing. “It’s all about making our customers happy, and given the situation with the price of gasoline, we want to help people.”
Maryland and three states nearby — Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey — have such laws, the origins of which are somewhat hazy.
The Maryland law, passed in 1968, prevents “refiners or suppliers of gasoline”, such as Shell, Citgo or BP Amoco to “promote or operate a game of chance” in Maryland.
Kevin J. Enright, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said this law prohibits Marylanders from participating in some free gas contests. But despite efforts to research the law, he said he was unable to determine the reasoning behind it.
But he said the prohibition against gas giveaways was limited to oil companies. Other entities such as Coca-Cola, he said, would be perfectly free to do so.
Paul Fiore, director of government affairs for the Washington, Maryland, Delaware Service Station & Automotive Repair Association, said the law came about in Maryland because of abuses by oil companies, which were costing gasoline dealers money, but he could not provide any further details.
The reason cited in a 1991 revision of the law was “to prohibit suppliers from requiring their stations to participate in games of chance.”
Mike Ward, executive director of the Virginia Petroleum Council, said the Virginia law was passed at around the same time as Maryland’s, but for slightly different reasons.
In Virginia, he said, legislation restricts giveaway deals on products such as gasoline because there was concern in the 1960s for how games of chance were handled, and it was thought that they were often rigged.
Ward said that is the only explanation he has heard for the law.
“It goes back years and years,” he said. “I know there have been some efforts to get rid of it, it’s just never been repealed.”
Whatever the reason, the end result is that in an era when gas prices are taking up a larger and larger part of the family budget, Maryland motorists don’t even get to dream about winning Shell’s -Power Fuel Your Drive Sweepstakes, which offers a grand prize of $5,000 worth of free gas, or Citgo’s Great Gas Giveaway Prize Patrol, which rewarded 20 customers at 80 gas stations this summer with Citgo cash cards worth up to $5,400.
Citgo gave away more than a million dollars in free gas, but none of it went to Maryland residents, Anderson said.
BP/Amoco’s Gold Standard Game this summer was also not open to Maryland residents. In this promotion, customers were rewarded for purchasing more than eight gallons of Amoco Ultimate with a chance to win “free gas for life” — a $1,200 prepaid gas card every year for 50 years.
But the ban on gas company giveaways doesn’t mean there is no such thing as free gas.
Mitsubishi Motors is giving away free gas for a year — $1,500 to $2,500 depending on fuel efficiency and the kind of gasoline used — to customers who buy or lease any 2005 model through the end of October.
Using free gas as a marketing tool makes sense, said Ellie Whims, director of Public Relations for Robin Jones Consulting in Frederick.
“Since gas prices have risen, the cost of driving has been a real focus of the media,” she said, “and companies are capitalizing on that.”
Dale Boswell of JBA Mitsubishi in Glen Burnie said the free gas promotion has been a success at his dealership, where he’s already noticed an increase in business.
“The phones are ringing off the hook with people calling to find out about it,” he said. “ItÕs driving business through the door.”
The promise of free gasoline is being used to market a variety of items.
Goodyear is offering up to $75 in free gas with the purchase of certain tires through Oct. 8, gasbuddy.com is giving away four $250 gas cards, and the broadband phone service, ViaTalk, recently awarded $20 prepaid cards to new members who signed up for a two-year contract.
In Virginia, $10 gas cards were given out in exchange for participation in a blood drive Aug. 26 hosted by the Red Cross and Inova Blood Services, and at Clearview Community Church in Sioux City, Iowa, $10 worth of free gas is being offered through the end of the month as an incentive to bring new members to the church.
Whims said she is not surprised by the range of businesses using gasoline to attract customers or clients. “Right now companies are trying lots of ways to get more business,” she said. “Using free gas is a common practice.”