By J. DeVoy
Las Vegas has but one maxim: What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas — a boon if you live there. Hubert Blackman contacted Las Vegas Exclusive Personals when visiting the Las Vegas Strip from New York to have a dancer come to his hotel room. Blackman claims that in addition to the dance, he paid an additional $120 for a sex act. Blackman sought a refund for the next day, arguing that the dancer did not stay for the full hour he paid for, and that he was too drunk to form an enforceable contract. (source.)
When Las Vegas Exclusive Personals refused to give Blackman a refund, our confused consumer called the Las Vegas Metro Police. The Police advised Blackman that he could be arrested for his actions, and advised him to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Apparently avoiding arrest, arraignment or any criminal charges, Blackman refused to accept he got lucky. Instead, he filed suit in a Federal court in New York City, seeking more than $1.8 million in damages. Under his theory of the case, Las Vegas Exclusive Personal’s dancer’s alleged prostitution – which Blackman paid for – almost got him arrested and subjected him to great emotional trauma. Good luck with that one, buddy. (source; H/T: Luke Lirot.)
The article mentions that prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas and Clark County. While this is a no-brainer in almost every other state, what’s not said within the article says volumes. When I first got my Nevada law license, one of my first priorities was to learn all about prostitution in the state. And, in all seriousness, it was purely for pedagogical reasons.
Prostitution in Nevada is confined to brothels, which are made lawful on a county-by-county basis under NRS 244.345. In counties with a population greater than 400,000 people as of the last census, no brothels can be licensed for operation. In counties where the population is less than 400,000 people as of the last census, the county may grant licenses through an application process and committee as it sees fit. Some counties, such as Lincoln County – adjacent to Clark County, where Las Vegas is located – have elected to outlaw brothels entirely. As a result, Nye County, the only other county to border Clark County, has received a number of other brothels within a 1-hour drive of Las Vegas.
The 400,000-person threshold for brothel legality creates certain economic incentives for brothels and the communities around them. Other businesses and groups, such as school boards, may want to increase population so as to expand the tax base and preclude brothels from operating in the county. Brothels, on the other hand, are given strong financial reasons to keep people out or operate in relatively secluded but easily accessible areas. While some counties allow any brothel that satisfies its licensing requirements to operate, other counties have a fixed limit as to how many brothel licenses it may have outstanding at any time, allowing greater control over brothel operations within the county.
Unlike, say, Houston, there are zoning restrictions locally and at the state level ensuring that brothels don’t spring up in the middle of high-traffic areas. Brothels cannot operate within 400 yards of a school or schoolroom, or within 400 yards of any “church, edifice, building or structure erected for and used for devotional services or religious worship” in Nevada. NRS 201.380.
There are also considerable restrictions on brothel advertising. NRS 201.430-40 place significant burdens on the advertising of prostitution and houses of prostitution, which may have a broader reach than the legislature may have ever initially intended. Despite the First Amendment concerns such restrictions raise, the Ninth Circuit upheld these statutory provisions as constitutional within the past year.
These are far from the only limitations on brothel advertising and promotion, though. Nevada’s regulations prohibit the number and size of signs a brothel may have, how far from the road they (and the brothel itself) must be, and even the number and wattage of red lights a brothel can use. Individual county provisions go into even greater detail, setting forth what showering and cleanliness items must be present within a brothel, as well as how service providers must acquire and renew their health licenses from that county’s sheriff.
Finally on the topic of regulations and sex workers, Nevada has a testing regime comparable to the porn industry’s. To obtain employment as a sex worker, a candidate must submit to blood testing for HIV and syphilis, and a cervical or urethral specimen for gonorrhea and chlamydia testing. Individual brothel policies governing the availability of anal sex may also affect whether rectal testing is mandatory for sex workers. Condoms must be used in all intercourse between patrons and sex workers. In the interest of health maintenance, sex workers must have monthly blood tests for HIV and syphilis, with weekly cervical/urethral samples for gonorrhea and chlamydia testing.
Despite such a pro-brothel regime, Nevada’s laws do not encourage unregulated street prostitution. NRS 201.295-420 provide strong protections for sex workers. In general, these laws outlaw pimping and receiving proceeds from prostitution without consideration, outlaw pandering, prohibit forcing a spouse, minor or other unwilling party into a brothel or other form of prostitution, and even penalize the keeping of a “disorderly” house of prostitution. Additional protections may be available at the county level, depending on what is required to renew and keep one’s brothel license.
This is a very rudimentary overview of brothel operation in Nevada; the laws and regulations affecting the industry obviously are political footballs, and economic ones as well given the present unemployment situation in Nevada. When people say that prostitution is legal in Nevada, they’re not wrong — but they’re not completely right, either. After acquiring this baseline knowledge, answering specific questions and keeping abreast of changes about brothel operation is much easier, translating into more efficient legal analysis of novel questions.