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May 13, 2001 12:01pm
Prostitution Alleged at Atlanta Club
Source: AP
by: Erin McClam

(ATLANTA, GA) -- The Gold Club is all neon and mirrors, a den of plush couches where visitors can order finger food, a martini and a personal stripper without leaving their seats.

The club, known in the industry as the nation's most profitable, includes five bars, a mini-restaurant, racks of expensive leather jackets and lingerie and $500 bottles of champagne. Business travelers run thousand-dollar tabs, billed innocently as ``MSB Inc.'' on company credit cards.

The hulking, black building is the flagship of a booming set of glitzy adult clubs in Atlanta that cater to platinum-card holding convention-goers, celebrities and professional athletes.

On Monday, the government begins laying out its racketeering case against owner Steve Kaplan and six associates, charging they ran an intricate conspiracy that included providing prostitutes in the Gold Club's gilded private rooms.

The trial is expected to include weeks of salacious testimony and possibly force well-known athletes to testify about what they saw at the club. Defense attorneys contend the government will trot out celebrities to sensationalize the trial, painting the club as a sex palace offensive to the conservative South.

``I think the religious factor in this area is strong,'' said Steve Sadow, Kaplan's lawyer. ``The government wants to try this as a case of immorality, not a case of illegality.''

But the reality is that Atlanta, although squarely inside the Bible Belt, has depended on its strip club industry for years to entertain convention-goers and the millions of dollars they pour into the city's economy.

Studies show that at least 60 percent of Atlanta strip club customers are from out of town.

``You can't ignore the numbers,'' said Dave Manack, editor of Exotic Dancer Publications, which prints a trade magazine and a national strip club directory. ``The strip club industry in Atlanta grosses more than the Braves, the Hawks and the Falcons combined. That's an awful lot of business.''

The Gold Club grosses about $20 million a year, and club managers claim they sell more champagne than any other club or restaurant in the nation.

Atlanta strip clubs try to differentiate themselves from exotic dancing that visitors might have experienced in other towns. They use a format that is closer to a Las Vegas revue than a seedy peep show.

Unlike in many states, dancers in Georgia can be completely nude, no G-strings or pasties. And Atlanta clubs try cater to customers looking for a touch of class - quality food served on linen tablecloths, marbled bathrooms with attendants and mirrored walls with brass trim.

The trial should highlight the strip clubs' particular appeal to celebrities and professional athletes. The FBI (news - web sites) says receipts show NBA stars Patrick Ewing, Dennis Rodman and Charles Oakley were among the athletes who received free food and drinks worth thousands of dollars at the club.

According to a federal indictment, managers repeatedly arranged prostitution in the club's Gold Rooms - dark, mirrored rooms that are closed off from the main stage and cost hundreds of dollars an hour.

Since the indictment, Mayor Bill Campbell has tried to revoke the club's liquor license. But Manack said government attempts to slow the strip club business in Atlanta are few and feeble.

``Atlanta is not a backwoodsish kind of place. It's very metropolitan, very upscale and very modern,'' Manack said. ``I can't think of any other section of a country that accepts this industry the way Atlanta seems to.''

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