1968 law puts brake on free gasoline

It's available in most other states through oil company promotions, but not in Maryland


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, 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."

Kevin J. Enright, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said this law prohibits Marylanders from participating in some free gas contests. Enright 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 further details.

The reason mentioned 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 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 about how games of chance were handled, and it was thought that they often were 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 "I know there have been some efforts to get rid of it; it's just never been repealed."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 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 get to dream about winning Shell's Power Fuel Your Drive Sweepstakes, which offers a prize of $5,000 worth of 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 $1 million in free gas, but none of it went to Maryland residents, Anderson said.

BP/Amoco's Gold Standard Game this summer also was 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.

Elizabeth Coe writes for the Capital News Service.

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