Legalizing Prostitution in Las Vegas

To continue our discussion from a previous post (a bit) about Legalization vs. Decriminalization I wanted to share this article with you. Especially since I often times focus on the sexual issues happening overseas and this issue is happening right here in the USA. In my previous article I argued for the decriminalization of prostitution - I still stand by this. This article, I hope, will help you understand that a bit more.

Legalising prostitution in Las Vegas

Nevada is the only state in the US that allows legal prostitution, but in its largest city, Las Vegas, prostitution is illegal. When the mayor suggested changing the law, it sparked a huge debate.

Mayor Oscar Goodman grabs the headlines whatever he says or does - and he relishes it. He is proud of Las Vegas' image as "Sin City" and happily calls it "an adult playground".

He boasts about his love of gin, cigars and pretty women and calls himself "the happiest mayor in the universe".

Before he became mayor, he was the top criminal lawyer to the Las Vegas mafia.

But when he suggested legalising prostitution and creating a red-light district and a string of "magnificent brothels" in downtown Vegas, the mayor got his most dramatic headlines yet.

He had opened up a debate on a taboo subject: Las Vegas' illegal prostitution.

Everybody knows it goes on, many businesses profit from it, but in-keeping with the city's slogan "What happens here, stays here", it is rarely discussed.

"It's disingenuous when people say they don't want to legalise it," says Mr Goodman. "Right now it's uncontrolled and unregulated. There's no check and balance as far as the women's health is concerned and legal brothels could be an important revenue-raising device for the city," says Mr Goodman.

"When you speak about it intellectually, not morally, it makes sense," he says. "If we had a referendum or ballot on legal brothels, it would probably pass."

Not without a fight, though. The vested interests in this city are legion.

Spectrum of workers

It is estimated that there are as many as 10,000 prostitutes operating illegally in Las Vegas, in an industry that may be worth as much as $6 billion a year.

Over 150 pages in the Las Vegas phone book advertise "escorts" and "massage", and leaflets promising to deliver "hot babes direct to your room in 20 minutes" are handed out to tourists openly on Las Vegas Boulevard, usually called "The Strip".

"Lucy" [name has been changed to protect her identity] is a top-end "companion" selling her time with men at $4000 a night. She explains how the sex trade functions in Las Vegas.

"There are women who get propositioned in the casinos, bars and hotels," she says.

"There are women who do 'extras' out of strip clubs and who 'give pleasure' in massage parlours. Women who do what we term 'outcall' - going to specific apartments to spend erotic time with gentlemen.

"There are women who work by print ads or on-line. And every casino host has a bevy of girls to call at a moment's notice to satisfy their high-rollers."

At the other end of the spectrum - in the seedier parts of downtown Las Vegas, among the cheap motels and ganglands - there are women who sell their bodies to pay for their drugs. They might charge as little as $20.

Robert Clymer, a former FBI agent in the city working in organised crime, says human trafficking adds to the industry.

"The number one problem, according to the FBI, is Asian prostitution," he says. "That means Asian organised crime and human trafficking into the US, straight into Las Vegas. And it's all fuelled by money."

Strange vacuum

With 600,000 people, Las Vegas is the largest city in Nevada.

Its illegal sex trade operates in a strange vacuum because in most of the rest of the state prostitution has been legalised.

In fact, Nevada is the only state in the US to allow legal brothels, which stems from a 1970 state law allowing Nevada's individual counties to licence their brothels. But this only applies to counties with populations under 400,000, which excludes Las Vegas and Reno.

The question today is - is what is good for Nevada, good for Las Vegas?

There are nearly 30 state-sanctioned brothels in Nevada.

With names like "Mustang Ranch" and "Moonlite Bunny Ranch", their owners say they contribute to the local economies and provide safe, clean sex.

Brothels are so much part of the Nevada culture that Home Box Office (HBO) even films a reality TV show inside the Bunny Ranch called "Cathouse".

George Flint is the chief lobbyist of the Nevada Brothel Association.

"Legal brothels could work anywhere," he says. "They could be huge in Las Vegas. It would be great for the women and for our industry which is today fragile because it remains a teeny business in a big state."

'Sexual slavery'

But some religious groups, academics and campaigners say that all prostitution is wrong and legalising it does not stop sex trafficking or the abuse of women.

"I see it as sexual slavery," says Candice Trummell, director of the Nevada Coalition Against Sex Trafficking. "I think it's morally and ethically wrong for governments to say it's OK to sell humans in that way. The government should not pimp the girls."

When asked if she was calling the government a pimp, Ms Trummell answered: "Yes, absolutely".

Kate Hausbeck, a sociology professor at the University of Las Vegas, has spent nearly 10 years researching both the legal and illegal sex trade in Nevada.

She concludes that the best model for Nevada - and any country in the world - is the decriminalisation of prostitution.

"Empower the women who do the work. Give them labour protection and the rights given other workers. Because it's a job and a choice for many women," she says.

But, when asked about Mr Goodman's idea of legal brothels for Las Vegas, she says she doesn't think prostitution will ever be legal here.

"There's too much money to be made from the illegal sex trade. The casinos and convention industry fear it would be a step too far," she says.


andrew j. ulasich said...


i've been thinking a bit about this, and although i don't yet have a thought out opinion on this, and probably don't know enough to make an educated comment, i have a few thoughts as to why this might be a bad idea...

there are unions out in these part trying to legalize prostitution. from what i'm told, they may do some good things - like seeking health care. but it doesn't seem like they have any intention of letting go of those who have been sold into slavery (even though they may argue that legalizing allows the government to regulate it). and if the government is corrupt enough to benefit from it happening, what's going to encourage them to regulate it?

also, even those who 'choose' to prostitute themselves do so from poverty. i believe a majority of women who 'choose' this do so because it is a last resort to support them and their children? so is it really a choice? less work to legalize, and more work to get these women out of poverty, maybe.

finally, i wonder if this fails to address root problems - like a messed up view of sexuality and relationships, a distorted view of women, as inferior beings, giving men the right to do this. or the belief that it's okay because the women want it. the trade needs to end, but these views also need to be transformed to value women, and healthy sexual relationships.

i think as far as criminalizing goes, the focus should be less on the prostitution, and more on those who are prostituting the women and children. they are the ones oppressing and dehumanizing. that should be viewed as the real crime.

again, i'm new to this, so i'd appreciate your thoughts.

wanderingellimac said...

I think you have some really great thoughts here.
I don't agree with the legalizing of prostitution at all. Although it would put some of the women in better shape for receiving health checks, being able to report violent crimes against them, have a "union" (more so then now) of support - but again, the arguments you raise are valid. Especially in places like Nepal where the government it corrupt (or just plain confused and jumbled at the moment) this won't help much. The government won't really regulate much. Even in the US time and time again we see officers being paid off to look the other way. (I don't want this to be an off-handed comment - many don't, but unfortunately, many do). So unfortunately legalization would not really provide the type of "protection" or control they are looking for.

As far as women choosing prostitution - I think you are correct. Poverty is one of the core issues, but there are so many more. It is just a bit money maker - even if you do get another steady job it is hard not to go back to one where you could make $1000 - $2000 in one night. Then again - they don't get to keep any of that themselves. They are completely taken care of by their pimp so there is a lot of dependence that goes on there which then leads in to guilt for ever choosing to lead and a lot of fear tied into that. There are a lot of complex issues. It gets even more complicated if they have had children with their pimp.

I think your point on the root problems is KEY. Addressing sexual exploitation has to start at the root or we'll always be fighting it. I really think the way to battle and take care of it is addressing the demand. You say that we should focus less on the prostitution and more on those that are prostitution the women. That would be great, but brothel keepers and pimps and some of the most difficult to prosecute (and not only because the girls are deathly afraid to testify against them). I think with my argument for decriminalizing prostitution we are no longer criminalizing the women but going after the john's - those that are buying the sex from the women in the brothels, off the internet, out of the newspapers and magazines, and from the street corners. When we crack down on them and they become fearful of continuing to purchase sex we have taken away the demand and we will see a decrease in our problems with sexual exploitation. This is a step Sweden has taken and they have had HUGE successes.

Great thoughts, you've got the big picture in mind and that's they key.