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Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 11:31am

Conservatives Target Video Poker

Conservative groups spoke out Tuesday at the state Capitol about legislation under consideration, including a video poker bill. They say it would expand gambling in Georgia.

The bill would allow the state to regulate video lottery machines that award non-cash prizes.

Backed by Gov. Nathan Deal, the measure would aim to crack down on the machines’ illegal payouts.

But opponents say it would benefit the gaming industry, and open the door to other types of gambling.

Judy Craft is with the Capitol Coalition of Conservative Leaders. She says the bill would add oversight, hence expanding government.

“It creates another commission of ten appointed, unelected people who are not accountable," she told reporters. "Seven of those people need to be master licensees in the gaming industry and only 5 percent of the money goes to the HOPE scholarship.”

The Georgia lottery funds the state’s college scholarship program.

The bill’s backers say there’s no oversight of the video terminals found in gas stations and elsewhere. And for some that means a loss of business.

Jim Tudor heads the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores, which includes the QuikTrip and RaceTrak chains that don’t have the machines. Of the competition, he says:

“You have a different model if you’re bringing in basically untaxed dollars and it does allow you to price your merchandise differently because frankly you don’t need to make the same profit margin on that,” he said.

The groups also spoke out against a clause in the House ethics bill that would force some activists to register with the state.

State Senator Joshua McKoon, a Columbus Republican, says that goes against the basic tenets of democracy.

"If someone wants to come down to the Capitol, and be in the people's house and talk to an elected official, they shouldn't have to sign a form, they shouldn't have to wear a badge, they should just be able to engage with the person," he said.

He added, "That's as old as the Republic -- that fundamental freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment."

A conference committee of lawmakers is meeting to hash out differences between House and Senate versions of the bill, which would cap lobbyists' spending.