12,000 Gallons of Gas for Free

They say there's no free lunch.

But today, there is free gas in Warren, Mich. Allstate insurance is rewarding the town's residents, who are among the safest drivers in the country, with a free tank.

And with gas prices taking a large bite out of people's wallets, Allstate isn't alone. Many companies are turning to free gas promotions as a way to draw customers in, especially in the tourism and hospitality industries.

The nationwide average for a gallon of regular unleaded is $3.08 — almost 6 percent higher than the average price a year ago. As gas prices reach new heights, so do some of the promotions.

Albuquerque, N.M., residents Jeanne and David White drive 150 to 225 miles a week — for free, all year long — thanks to a promotion at their local casino.

Twin River, a Rhode Island gambling hall running a giveaway for its slot machine players, takes things even further. Forget a free tank of gas. Later this month, gamblers there could win a free tanker truck full of gas. That's 12,000 gallons of gas, worth about $36,000.

To put it another way: With that much gas somebody could drive from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco -- and back -- about 60 times.

Only one winner will get the free tanker of gas at the June 30 drawing. And don't expect to drive away with the truck. A close read of the fine print reveals that the gambling establishment is not actually giving away a truck full of gas, but a gas card worth $36,000.

Lack of Disposable Income

High gas prices hurt the gambling industry, said Cynthia Stern, spokeswoman for Twin River. People have less disposable money to spend on slot machines and think twice about driving to an area casino.

"We're really capitalizing on a market situation. We're rewarding people for coming here," she said.

Besides the tanker, during six days this month Twin River is giving away 55 gallons of gas every 30 minutes to gamblers.

Across the country, Jeanne and David White won vouchers for $30 in gas each week for a year from Casino Hollywood. The casino is on land of the San Felipe tribe halfway between Albuquerque and Santa Fe and the vouchers are only good at the tribe's gas station.

"We're very, very happy," said Jeanne White.

Brian Roybal, promotions manager at the casino, said it had been wildly popular.

"I'm having a hard time keeping drawing tickets in stock," he said. "It's baffled my mind."

White said, "It's a great incentive for people to go in and play," although she acknowledged that and she and her husband went to the casino one to three times a week regardless.

Gas Promotions Are Nothing New

Radio stations have long given away gas to the first 100 people or so to show up at a particular gas station.

But these days it seems everybody is trying to give away some gas.

Rutter's Farm Stores, a chain of 50 convenience stores and gas stations in Pennsylvania, is offering its customers a chance to win free gas for three years. It says that's 2,340 gallons, or 15 gallons a week.

Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus recently worked with a gas station in Langhorne, Pa., to give away gas for one hour.

The event drew so many cars that the police chief had to direct traffic.

Gas giveaways have even spread to churches.

The other weekend, the Salem Baptist Church of Chicago gave 600 motorists $10 worth of gas for free at two Southside stations as part of its community outreach program.

"Our church is based in one of the highest areas of unemployment, especially among African-American men," said the church's pastor, the Rev. James T. Meeks, who is also a state senator. "The small percentage of individuals with jobs endure the longest commute time to work in the state. … We want to do good in our community but we also have to do what's necessary in times like this."

Targeting Tourists

Most gas promotions, however, are linked to travel.

Businesses that rely on travelers to drive to their location often try everything to offset a vacationer's added gas expenses.

The state of Illinois tourism bureau is giving away $25 gas cards to anybody who books their trip through its Web site. It is also offering a contest to win gas for a year, which it pegs at $2,500.

Choice Hotels, which includes Comfort Inn, Econo Lodge and Rodeway Inn, is offering guests a $50 gas card after three separate stays at its hotels.

So do these incentives really work?

John Fareed, a travel marketing consultant in Winter Park, Fla., doesn't think so.

"Consumers are very savvy and they know they're paying for it one way or another," Fareed said.

With many gas deals out there, one cancels out the other, he said, leaving consumers to choose a room on the normal criteria: price, amenities and location.

Fareed said that the sticker shock of gas prices had faded and that most Americans were still taking road trips despite the prices.

As for giving away a tanker full of gas, Fareed said it was a "clever" promotion but no different that having a large cash jackpot.

"Every day," he said, "there is a drawing or prize on the table at a casino, whether it's a car or cash."