January 03, 2003 02:46pm
Vegas Sex Industry Fights Gov't Crackdown on Lap Dances
by: Angie Wagner
(LAS VEGAS, NV) -- Between nude dances, when the strippers go backstage to have a smoke and adjust their lingerie, Andrea Hackett rushes into the dressing room with a stack of fliers and a plan to save the sex industry.
Come to a meeting, Hackett, a dancer herself, tells them. Let's talk about how to stop the attack on your business, she says.
Politicians and prosecutors are trying to take some of the sin out of Sin City these days - a crackdown that is turning strippers into political activists and causing some to wonder whether Las Vegas is suffering an identity crisis.
"This is an all-out assault on adult entertainment in the adult entertainment capital of the world," said Hackett, who has helped strippers register to vote and distributed a voter guide telling them which candidates to support.
In recent months, the Clark County commission has barred lap dancers in most Las Vegas-area strip clubs from sitting in customers' laps. Some prosecutors want to crack down on dancers who perform in guests' hotel rooms. And gambling agents who used to concentrate on catching cheaters are now patrolling casino nightclubs, watching for lewd behavior.
"I think it's a joke. It's stupid," said "Crystal," a 21-year-old dancer at the Deja Vu Showgirls club who registered to vote for the first time because of Hackett. "They should focus on real prostitution. We put Las Vegas on the map."
From showgirls to cocktail waitresses, skin always has been a part of Las Vegas. Even major casinos on the Las Vegas Strip such as the MGM Grand and the Aladdin feature topless shows like "Le Femme" and "X." There are 31 topless or all-nude clubs in Las Vegas and surrounding Clark County. Among them is the new $25 million Sapphire Gentlemen's Club, billed as the world's largest adult entertainment complex. It offers sky boxes and 6,000 dancers.
The crackdown is coming mostly from Clark County officials; strip clubs within the city do not fall under the county's jurisdiction. But most of the clubs - and the Las Vegas Strip itself - are outside the city limits.
County Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson Gates first proposed cleaning up steamy lap dances after an undercover police investigation found that sexy dancing can progress to "excessive grinding," simulated sex acts and, finally, sex for money.
The proposal led to a raucous meeting last summer during which one man touted the heart benefits of a lap dance, and another accused Gates of being sexually repressed.
"I'm not doing this for my sexual anything!" the commissioner yelled, banging her gavel. "I'm doing this because I think it's right."
Before the new rules, lap dances were illegal in Clark County. But the law was so vague it was rarely enforced. Under the new law, effective Sept. 1, 2002, lap dances are legal, but dancers are specifically barred from touching or sitting on the customer's genital area. Commissioners initially banned stuffing dollar bills in G-strings, but later decided to Ok the practice. Lap dances remain legal in the city of Las Vegas.
Separately, state gambling agents have begun patrolling nightclubs after getting complaints of sex acts taking place at Baby's inside the Hard Rock hotel-casino. The Hard Rock agreed to a $100,000 fine.
"Young people have a lifestyle that needs a little bit more attention to what is appropriate," said Bobby Siller, Nevada Gaming Control Board member. "People are having a great time, and sometimes it gets a little bit carried away."
Earlier last year, the outgoing district attorney and another prosecutor called for a ban on private dancers in hotel rooms. The outcall entertainment industry has long been considered a front for prostitution, which is illegal in and around Las Vegas.
Huge billboards of scantily clad women beckon tourists to call one of the Las Vegas area's 124 licensed outcall businesses, and the Yellow Pages have dozens of advertisements for "Mature Dolls" and "College Cuties."
"There's a million and a half people that live in Clark County, and I think they are entitled to a quality of life that doesn't include having to explain to your kids what that's all about," said prosecutor Mike Davidson.
The County Commission has not addressed the issue, and new District Attorney David Roger has said it is not a priority.
The crackdown on strippers doesn't make sense to many tourists.
"That's why people come here. They think of it as Sin City. I think it's asinine to try and regulate it. Vegas is Vegas," Drake Hanson of Palm Springs, Calif., said as he watched the strippers at Deja Vu.
Hal Rothman, a history professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said he suspects the trend has something to do with Las Vegas trying to become a community, not just a tourist destination.
"There's no doubt that our traditions and our future are somehow at odds," Rothman said. "We're going to have to renegotiate the boundaries."