Nevada is the only U.S. state where prostitution is legally permitted in some form. Strictly regulated brothels operate legally in mainly isolated rural areas, away from the majority of Nevada’s population.
However, prostitution is not legal in all of Nevada, and is illegal in the following counties: Clark (which contains Las Vegas), Douglas, Eureka County, Lincoln, Pershing County and Washoe (which contains Reno). Prostitution is also illegal in Nevada’s capital, Carson City, an independent city.
The rest of Nevada’s counties are permitted by state law to license brothels, but currently only seven counties have active brothels. As of February 2018, there are 21 brothels in Nevada.
Despite there being a legal option, the vast majority of prostitution in Nevada takes place illegally in Reno and Las Vegas. About 66 times more money is spent by customers on illegal prostitution in Nevada than in the regulated brothels.
Brothels have been allowed in Nevada since the middle of the 19th century.
In 1937, a law was enacted to require weekly health checks of all prostitutes. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an order to suppress prostitution near military bases — affecting the red-light districts of Reno and Las Vegas.
When this order was lifted in 1948, Reno officials tried to shut down a brothel as a public nuisance; this action was upheld by the Nevada Supreme Court in 1949.
In 1951, both Reno and Las Vegas had closed their red-light districts as public nuisances, but brothels continued to exist throughout the state.
In 1971, Joe Conforte, owner of a brothel called Mustang Ranch, near Reno, managed to convince county officials to pass an ordinance which would provide for the licensing of brothels and prostitutes, thus avoiding the threat of being closed down as a public nuisance.
Officials in Las Vegas, afraid that Conforte would use the same technique to open a brothel nearby, convinced the legislature, in 1971, to pass a law prohibiting the legalization of prostitution in counties with a population above a certain threshold, tailored to apply only to Clark County.
In 1977, county officials in Nye County tried to shut down Walter Plankinton’s Chicken Ranch as a public nuisance; brothels did not have to be licensed in that county at the time, and several others were operating.
Plankinton filed suit, claiming that the 1971 state law had implicitly removed the assumption that brothels are public nuisances per se. The Nevada Supreme Court agreed with this interpretation in 1978, and so the Chicken Ranch was allowed to operate.
In another case, brothel owners in Lincoln County protested when the county outlawed prostitution in 1978, having issued licenses for seven years. The Nevada Supreme Court ruled, however, that the county had the right to do so.
A state law prohibiting the advertising of brothels in counties which have outlawed prostitution was enacted in 1979. It was promptly challenged on First Amendment grounds, but in 1981, the Nevada Supreme Court declared it to be constitutional.
In July 2007, the law was overturned by a U.S. District judge as “overly broad”, and advertising in Las Vegas started soon after.
In March 2010, the district judge’s decision was reversed back by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The ACLU appealed to the full Ninth Circuit Court in March 2010. It further appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States in 2011, but the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal.
The ban on brothels advertising therefore remains in force.
While brothels and prostitutes are subject to federal income tax and also pay local fees, Nevada has no state income tax, and brothels are exempt from the state entertainment tax and do not pay any other state taxes.
In 2005, brothel owners lobbied to be taxed in order to increase the legitimacy of the business, but the legislature declined.
Brothels pay taxes to their respective counties. Lyon County receives approximately $500,000 per year from these taxes.
The precise licensing requirements vary by county. License fees for brothels range from an annual $100,000 in Storey County to an annual $200,000 in Lander County.
Licensed prostitutes must be at least 21 years old, except in Storey County and Lyon County where the minimum age is 18. The brothels and their employees must register with the county sheriff and receive regular medical checkups.
Nevada law requires that registered brothel prostitutes be tested weekly for gonorrhea and Chlamydia trachomatis, and monthly for HIV and syphilis; furthermore, condoms are mandatory for all oral sex and sexual intercourse.
Nevada has laws against engaging in prostitution outside of licensed brothels, against encouraging others to become prostitutes, and against living off the proceeds of a prostitute.
As of February 2018, 21 legal brothels exist in the state employing about 200 women at any given time.
In some locales, there exist multi-unit complexes of several separate brothels run by the same owner. These include “The Line” in Winnemucca and Mustang Ranch in Storey County.
All but the smallest brothels operate as follows: as the customer is buzzed in and sits down in the parlor, the available women appear in a line-up and introduce themselves. If the customer chooses a woman, the price negotiations, which are often overheard by management, take place in the woman’s room. Brothels do not have preset prices.
Brothel prostitutes, also known as Courtesans, work as independent contractors. They are responsible for paying Federal income tax and their earnings are reported to the IRS via form 1099-MISC. Nevada does not have a state income tax.
Illegal prostitution is the most common form of prostitution in Nevada; the crime is a misdemeanor. Nevertheless, prostitutes continue to work in casinos, where they wait in bars and attempt to make contact with potential clients.
Of all the prostitution business in Nevada, only about 10% is legal, and 90% of illegal prostitution occurs in Las Vegas. Legal prostitution in Nevada grosses about $75 million per year while illegal prostitution in the Las Vegas area grosses about $5 billion per year.
Some 300–400 prostitutes are arrested each month by the Las Vegas police.
Escort services offering sexual services euphemistically as ‘entertainment’ or ‘companionship’ are ubiquitous, with a reported 104 pages of a Las Vegas yellow pages directory devoted to “entertainers”.
Flyers are dispensed to tourists and others along the Las Vegas Strip by freelance workers. These flyers also graphically depict female ‘personal’ entertainers or escort services. Despite the attempt to make the Las Vegas Strip more family-friendly, such advertising for these services continues.
In 2009 Las Vegas was identified by the FBI as one of 14 cities in the U.S. with high rates of child prostitution. Las Vegas police claimed that “roughly 400 children are picked off the streets from prostitution each year.”
The U.S. Justice Department has also named Las Vegas among the 17 most likely destinations for human trafficking.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, several towns had enacted rules prohibiting local brothel prostitutes from frequenting local bars or casinos or associating with local men outside of work.
After a lawsuit was filed in 1984, these regulations had to be abandoned, but as a result of collaboration between sheriffs and brothel owners, they remain in effect unofficially.
Occasionally, lawmakers attempt to introduce legislation outlawing all prostitution in Nevada. These efforts are typically supported by owners of casinos and other large businesses, claiming that legalized prostitution harms the state’s image.
Nevada politicians can (and generally do) play both sides of the prostitution dispute by declaring that they are personally opposed to prostitution but feel it should be up to the counties to decide.
As almost three-quarters of the population of Nevada lives in a single county (Clark County, where prostitution is illegal), county control over local matters is a hot-button issue.
Legislators from the northern counties will often reflexively oppose what is seen as “meddling” from the majority in the south, and the legislators from the south have been too divided on the issue to push through a statewide ban.
Since 2003, Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman has repeatedly stated that he favors legalization of prostitution in the city, perhaps turning East Fremont Street into a little Amsterdam.
Goodman said there are pragmatic reasons to back legalized prostitution. Those include the acknowledgement that illegal prostitution is occurring and that brothels could provide safer, regulated and revenue-generating sex, he said.
The brothel owners’ organization, supported by Democratic State Senator Bob Coffin, has been pushing for taxation of the brothels, to increase the industry’s legitimacy.
The proposal, which would have instituted a $5 tax per act of prostitution, with the proceeds partly being used for a sex worker counseling agency, was voted down in the Taxation Committee in April 2009.
In February 2011, U.S. Senator Harry Reid suggested that brothels be made illegal in Nevada.
The opinions of Nevada residents vary, but the majority appears to support the status quo of prostitution: they support laws allowing licensed brothels in the rural areas but oppose the legalization of prostitution in Las Vegas.
A poll conducted in Nevada in 2002 found that 52% of the 600 respondents favored the existing legal and regulated brothels, while 31% were against laws that allow prostitution and the remainder were undecided, preferred fewer legal constraints on prostitution, or did not offer an opinion.
The trend seems to be that new arrivals to Nevada tend to oppose legal prostitution while long-time Nevadans tend to support it. However, nearly 60% of Nevada residents oppose the legalization of brothels and prostitution in Las Vegas.
In 2004, after the closure of the last brothel in Churchill County, a county ballot initiative to permanently ban prostitution in that county was defeated by a 2–1 vote.
A July 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that 56% of Nevada voters thought that prostitution should be legal, while only 32% thought it should be illegal and 12% were not sure.
A June 2012 Public Policy Polling survey found that 64% of Nevada voters thought that brothels should be legal in the state, while only 23% thought they should be illegal, and 13% were not sure.
(Excerpted from Wikipedia)