ATLANTIC CITY - This is a town where gamblers have grown accustomed to shelling out $5 - or more - to park at the casino hotels.

But Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino will break from the pack March 1 by allowing customers to park for free in its garage.

For all of March, Trump Plaza customers won't have to pay a dime for parking, even those who don't have a Trump One loyalty card.

"To drive the masses into the building is what we're looking to do," Eddie Llambias, Trump Plaza's newly appointed general manager, said of the strategy.

Free parking is part of a monthlong marketing promotion that also includes free food and prizes. Trump Plaza will be giving away hot dogs and scratch-off cards good for free gifts or slot play for Trump One cardholders.

The gaming industry has had a parking charge ever since the Legislature imposed a $2 fee at the casino garages in 1993 to help pay for Atlantic City redevelopment projects. The state-mandated fee was increased to $3 in 2003 to generate more revenue.

However, casinos are free to charge whatever the market will bear. In recent years, the market rate has been $5, although casinos sometimes raise the fee to $10, $20 or even higher during special events or busy summer weekends.

Trump Plaza will still be obligated to pay the state $3 for each car or truck that pulls into its garage during the promotion. Although the casino will have to swallow the cost, Llambias predicted the parking promotion will generate more than enough extra business.

"Our belief is that the investment that we're putting in will give us a good return," he said.

Over the years, some casinos have given free parking to their cardholders. Caesars Entertainment Corp., owner of the Bally's, Caesars, Harrah's Resort and Showboat casinos, offers free parking for all customers who earn 25 credits when using their Total Rewards Gold card, said Jennifer Weissman, the company's regional vice president of marketing.

Trump Plaza customers interviewed Friday were split over whether free parking would be a strong enough inducement to keep them at the casino.

"Every time I come to Atlantic City, I have to pay for parking. But free parking is always a nice attraction," said Sean Simon, of Trevose, Pa.

Kevin O'Keefe, of Philadelphia, said he has become so used to casino parking fees that Trump Plaza's program won't change his travel habits.

"The $5 fee isn't so bad," O'Keefe said. "Free parking is better, of course, but I don't think it would make a difference."

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

609-272-7258

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