When It Comes to Gas, Some States Can't Even Give It Away

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When It Comes to Gas, Some States Can't Even Give It Away

ANNAPOLIS, MD. -- While gas stations around the country are drawing in crowds with gasoline prizes and giveaways, drivers in some states are being left out in the cold.

For instance, there are no gas giveaways in Maryland due to an old law prohibiting oil companies from running promotional giveaways and prize games would allow Maryland residents from getting free gas, reported the CatonsvilleTimes.com.

Maryland and three nearby states -- Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey -- have such laws, the origins of which are somewhat hazy

"It's too bad you guys can't participate in the giveaway," Julie Anderson, spokeswoman for Citgo marketing, told CatonsvilleTimes.com. "It's all about making our customers happy, and given the situation with the price of gasoline, we want to help people."

The Maryland law, passed in 1968, does not allow "refiners or suppliers of gasoline to promote or operate a game of chance" in Maryland.

Kevin J. Enright, spokesman for the state attorney general's office, said this law prohibits Marylanders from participating in some free gas contests, according to CatonsvilleTimes.com. But despite efforts to research the law, he said he was unable to determine the reasoning behind it.

He said in the report that the prohibition against gas giveaways was limited to oil companies. Other business entities 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, reported CatonsvilleTimes.com.

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, reported CatonsvilleTimes.com.

In Virginia, he said in the report, 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 told CatonsvilleTimes.com. "I know there have been some efforts to get rid of it, it's just never been repealed."

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, Ellie Whims, director of public relations for Robin Jones Consulting in Frederick told CatonsvilleTimes.com.

"Since gas prices have risen, the cost of driving has been a real focus of the media and companies are capitalizing on that," she said in the report.

The promise of free gas is being used to market a variety of items. Goodyear offered 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, awarded $20 prepaid cards to new members who signed up for a two-year contract, according to the report.

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 told CatonsvilleTimes.com. "Using free gas is a common practice."