With the retirement of long-time, highly-respected brothel lobbyist George Flint in 2015, the Nevada Brothel Association (NBA) – established to protect the legal brothel industry in the state – withered on the vine and died.
Filling the gap in legislative defense of the legal industry was Dennis Hof, owner of the world-famous Moonlite Bunny Ranch outside of Carson City, who had already been very active politically before the demise of the NBA.
For over two decades, Hof had been the leading spokesperson for the legal brothel industry in Nevada; devoting time, attention and money to promoting the virtues and social benefits of making “the world’s oldest profession” both lawful and acceptable.
“In early 2009,” reports Wikipedia, “due to the recession, State Senator Bob Coffin proposed legalizing prostitution statewide for tax purposes.
“Hof was prominently featured in a number of media reports saying he would expand into Las Vegas given the opportunity, and was already eying some closed casinos as property. However, the Nevada lawmakers refused to consider the proposal of statewide legal prostitution during that legislative session.”
Perhaps the industry’s greatest recent threat came in 2011, when then-U.S. Sen. Harry Reid led an effort outlaw prostitution statewide.
“Nevada needs to be known as the first place for innovation and investment – not as the last place where prostitution is still legal,” he said in a speech to the Nevada Legislature. “If we want to attract business to Nevada that puts people back to work, the time has come for us to outlaw prostitution.”
To counter Sen. Reid’s shot across the bow, Hof showed up at the Legislature prior to Reid’s speech with eight legal sex workers and declared to the media, “Harry Reid will have to pry the cat house keys from my cold dead hands.”
Legislators and other elected officials were also cool to the idea, especially the notion that legal brothels were an impediment to economic development efforts to attract new businesses to the state.
“I have never been approached by any prospective business or had an inquiry as to that industry,” Lt. Governor Brian Krolicki, chairman of the state’s economic development commission, said in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun. “I suspect it would present a challenge to certain individuals bringing in a company but it has never been a topic of conservation.”
Other officials – including Gov. Brian Sandoval, Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness – all took the position that legal brothels were a local issue that should be determined by the various counties in which they were allowed by state law.
Hof significantly increased his political activism in 2016 when he ran for the Nevada State Assembly seat in District 36, which encompassed Nye County – home to four legal brothels, two of which he owned – and some mostly rural parts of Clark and Lincoln counties.
Hof’s initial bid as a Libertarian Party candidate in 2016 came up short. As expected, his opponent, then-Assemblyman James Oscarson, ran a brutal and dirty campaign, not only against Hof as a “pimp,” but the industry as a whole.
Shortly thereafter, Hof re-registered as a Republican and again sought the seat in 2018. He won the GOP primary that June, then went on to win the seat outright in the November general election with an overwhelming 68 percent of the vote – despite his untimely death just three weeks before Election Day.
But Hof’s candidacy wasn’t the only brothel-related issue on the ballot.
Earlier in the year, two politically-motivated efforts to ban brothels via a ballot initiative – one in Nye County, where Hof owned two brothels, and the other in Lyon County, where Hof owned all four brothels – were launched.
Opponents were unable to gather enough signatures to put the issue on the 2018 general election ballot in Nye; however, the Lyon County Commission voted to place an “advisory question” on outlawing legal brothels on its ballot.
With Hof’s passing, two legal sex workers from the Bunny Ranch brothel – Alice Little and Ruby Rae – and Hof’s campaign manager, Chuck Muth, picked up the torch and waged a “Save Our Brothels” campaign in Lyon County. And on Election Day, the anti-brothel initiative was crushed, 80 percent to 20 percent.
But the fight was clearly not over.
“Change starts when people of conscience and conviction take action,” tweeted Jason Guinasso, the Reno lawyer behind the anti-brothel initiatives and founder of a state PAC dedicated to shuttering them.
“Tuesday’s result was not the end, but rather part of a process that will lead to change,” Guinasso continued. “We aren’t done yet. We began an important conversation that will continue beyond this election cycle.”
And indeed, at the time of the election Nevada State Sen. Joe Hardy of Las Vegas had already introduced a “Bill Draft Request” seeking legislation in 2019, as Reid pushed for in 2011, to ban prostitution statewide.
Recognizing the threats weren’t going away, and that the industry’s most powerful and influential defender was no longer able to protect them, Little and Rae – along with Hof’s business general manager, Suzette Cole – resurrected the Nevada Brothel Association, with Muth serving as its registered agent, in November 2018.
The original founding members included all five Hof-owned properties – the Bunny Ranch, Kit Kat Ranch, Love Ranch North, Love Ranch South and Sagebrush Ranch. The founders will invite other operators to join the association in the future.