Posted on: September 16, 2022, 08:00.
Last updated: September 16, 2022, 9:45 AM.
Yes, that billboard truck that stops next to your car on the Las Vegas Strip says “Girls Straight to Your Room.” And yes, those guys on the corner hand out cards with photos of scantily clad women and a phone number to call.
And no, prostitution is not legal in Las Vegas.
A truck with billboards appears to be offering prostitution to tourists on the Las Vegas Strip in plain sight. But appearances can be complicated, if not deceiving. (Image: janaintheworld.com)
Prostitution has been unofficially illegal in Las Vegas since the red light districts were closed in the 1940s and 1950s. Officially, prostitution in Clark County (Vegas, actually) was banned by the Nevada legislature in 1971. Prostitution outside the brothel, such as streetwalking and the escort services implied by the billboard trucks, has been banned by law throughout the state since 1987.
Some people believe that Las Vegas allows prostitution because it seems to be happening openly,” said Michael Green, an associate professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “It’s also something that people tend to think would make sense in Las Vegas. Everything is possible here. So why not prostitution?”
A nationwide headline last week illustrates pop culture’s role in perpetuating this myth. “Vegas sex worker offering VIP deal to robbers,” TMZ claimed. However, the sex worker who made the offer, Arial Ganja, works at the Chicken Ranch in Nye County, an hour’s drive west of the Strip. (This explains why she entered a free limo ride as part of her deal.)
What about the Billboard Trucks and Hooker Cards?
It is perfectly legal for an escort to accept money to come to a stranger’s hotel room for an unspecified reason. It is also legal to advertise this service. In fact, it took over 100 pages of the telephone directory.
“What a paid escort chooses to do once they’re in your room can be legal or illegal. But it’s nothing the police can do if no one calls them,” Green said.
If you come across a real brothel in Las Vegas, make sure it’s neither legal nor a place you want to find yourself. In August 2022, two people were arrested and charged with running one such brothel near the Las Vegas Strip. Nearly 200 men had been observed by police entering their home in a residential area and leaving after less than an hour.
Brothels like this one – which advertised its services on Craigslist – are more likely to be associated with sex trafficking, kidnapping, drug trafficking and other unsafe crimes simply because the operation is a criminal operation by definition.
Nevada’s Complicated Relationship With Whores
In the 1800s, Nevada’s biggest draw was not gambling or Cirque du Soleil, but gold and silver mining. The influx of diggers hoping to make it rich resulted in three men for every woman. Brothels offered the illusion of equalizing that number. By the early 1900s, every other state in the union passed laws banning businesses that force women and girls into prostitution.
But Nevada, where brothels were more culturally entrenched, did something unusual instead. It left the matter to its provinces and cities to decide.
“This reflects Nevada’s sometimes misbegotten libertarianism — live and let live,” Green said. “The leaders decided to allow what other states would not allow. In 1897, for example, only Nevada allowed prize fighting, and both gambling and prostitution went on happily.”
In the jurisdictions that chose to allow it, brothel prostitution was highly regulated. In 1937, Nevada’s State Board of Health began requiring brothel prostitutes to submit to weekly gonorrhea and monthly syphilitic checks.
Finally, in the 1970s, some Nevada counties with long-regulated prostitution began to officially legalize brothels. Storey County was the first to endorse Joe Conforte’s Mustang Ranch in 1971.
Currently, there are 20 legal brothels operating in Nevada’s 10 counties that allow them, according to the Nevada Brothel List site. That’s less than a peak of 35 brothels in the early 1980s.
In addition to the Chicken Ranch, Sheri’s Ranch is also an hour’s drive from the Strip in Nye County. Nye’s only other legal brothel, the Alien Cathouse, is 90 minutes northwest in Amargosa Valley.
For a time, Nye’s best-known brothel was Dennis Hof’s Love Ranch in Crystal, Nev. Basketball and Lamar Odom, the star of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” created international fame for the brothel in 2015 when he nearly died of a drug overdose while residing there. Three years later brothel impresario Hof died there at the age of 72. The brothel was up for sale for $1.2 million.
The sex workers in Nevada’s legal brothels work as independent contractors renting out space in hair salons or day spas. They pay licensing fees to the state and their own taxes on their income. Sex workers also pay for their own weekly STD tests and sex worker registration cards, which vary in price by province. They are allowed to negotiate their own prices with customers (usually anywhere from $100-$1,000 per “menu” item). And they are expected to kick half back to the brothel to cover rent, food, utilities and other operating expenses.
Why is prostitution illegal in Las Vegas?
That’s a funny question to ask, isn’t it? No one ever asks why brothels are illegal in Detroit or Wichita.
Just after his win in Storey County, Joe Conforte bumped into a wall he didn’t expect to hit when he tried to get a permit to open a brothel in Clark County in 1971. Instead of getting a license, prostitution was banned at Conforte. His request prompted provincial officials to persuade state legislators to remove the choice of legal brothels from any province with more than 200,000 residents. (At the time, this meant Clark County.) Now the law specifies 700K. (Again, Clark County, but now Washoe County, where Reno is located.)
At the time of the 1971 Prostitution Act, the state had just passed the Corporate Gaming Act to try to attract publicly traded companies and get rid of organized crime,” said Green. “And, as the famous Las Vegan Andre Agassi once said, image is everything. But I think Las Vegas has become less libertarian socially due to population growth.”
“We are much more conservative than most people realize.”
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