What’s Legal at Strip Clubs in Vegas?
Can you touch? Can they? Can a dancer be busted for pushing her tits in your face? Can she legally dry-hump you? Can you go to jail for feeling her up? Inquiring minds want to know! And believe it or not, the answers to these burning questions of our time have come all the way from the Nevada Supreme Court.
Generally, I find legal arguments and court decisions about as exciting as sweeping out my garage, but these battles have been so amusing, with legal arguments so inane, that I’m compelled to fill you in on the juicy details. The legal status of lap dancing in the city of Las Vegas goes back to a case that began in 2004, when 13 Crazy Horse Too dancers were busted for violating the Las Vegas Erotic Dance Code, which states: “No dancer shall fondle or caress any patron, and no patron shall fondle or caress any dancer.”
Now, the wording of that section of the law may sound pretty clear, but up until these dancers were busted in a “raid” on the club one night, no one had ever tried to enforce the Las Vegas Erotic Dance Code, and lap dancing was common in the Las Vegas strip clubs.
According to Deputy City Attorney Edward Poleski, the Las Vegas law was modeled on a decades-old decision in a Washington state case, at a time when dancers in that state were not allowed to get within 10 feet of customers and tipping was prohibited. But with no one making any effort to enforce this law for so many years, “fondling and caressing” had become an established part of the Las Vegas strip-club scene. Then suddenly, for whatever reason, the Las Vegas District Attorney decided to take action.
The Crazy Horse Too dancers fought the charges against them on the grounds that the law was “vague,” since the terms fondling and caressing weren’t precisely defined. And as was widely expected, the dancers won their case. It was thrown out of court by Municipal Court Judge Betsy Kolkoski, who agreed that the law was unconstitutionally vague.
So the city attorneys decided to appeal the case in District Court, arguing that it should be deemed illegal for a dancer to touch a strip club patron when said dancer was engaging in this contact for the purpose of sexually arousing said patron.
No customers claimed that the dancers were offending them with their lewd behavior. No dancers were complaining to the police that customers were sexually abusing them. No strip club managers had called the cops to have their dancers or customers arrested for violating house rules or state laws. No one who was actually involved in this activity was complaining. Just one concerned citizen, Edward Poleski, in the D.A.’s office, was morally outraged that somebody out there was doing naughty stuff, and he unearthed a law on the books that he felt he could use to put a stop to it!
To the dismay of the city attorneys, however, the Municipal Court judge’s decision was upheld by District Judge Sally Loehrer. Judge Loehrer pointed out that since the law didn’t even specify if the caressing had to be done with the hands, a dancer might be found in violation of the law if she used a feather boa to caress a customer. Judge Loehrer found the appellants’ argument about sexual arousal to be particularly ridiculous. She was quoted in the Las Vegas Sun as stating: “Why else would anyone go into those establishments? They’re not going for the lighting or the drinks. If people go in there, I would assume they are going in to be erotically aroused.”
So, hallefuckinglujiah, there’s actually intelligent life within the court system! It took two female judges to recognize, and be brave enough to state for the record, that guys go to strip clubs to get turned on and that the anti-fondling and caressing laws were more about harassment than protecting public morals.
But was that the end of it? No. The Las Vegas city attorneys, who apparently had enough time on their hands to worry about what strip-club patrons had on (or in) their hands, appealed the District Court’s ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court.
The Nevada Supreme Court Rules on Vegas Strip Club Breast Fondling
I’m not making this up. The state Supreme Court in Nevada was called upon to make a ruling on whether or not an adult female was allowed to let an adult male feel her up. For money. She claims to be an artist, a dancer, creating erotic fantasies for an appreciative public. She is paid by her patrons directly for weaving her visions one-on-one.
Her patrons will pay $200 for 30 minutes in a dark room with her. That sounds expensive to people who aren’t heterosexual men, but the way men see it is 30 minutes in a dark room with those tits. Are you kidding? That’s a bargain. (Sad, but that’s how much many of us guys will pay to get to second base.)
In November 2006, more than two years after the alleged crime of fondling had occurred at the Crazy Horse Too (which by this time had lost its license due to tax violations and was no longer in business), the Nevada Supreme Court overturned Las Vegas District Judge Sally Loehrer’s ruling and declared that the Las Vegas Erotic Dance Code was, in fact, not unconstitutionally vague!
The Nevada newspapers and TV news all reported that the strippers had lost their case and that the anti-lap-dancing laws could be enforced. It looked like a dark and gloomy future for lap dancers and lap-dance aficionados in Las Vegas. Then someone took the time to read the full text of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Although the justices had ruled that the Las Vegas law was not unconstitutionally vague (they considered the terms “fondling and caressing” sufficiently understood by the average person), they also stated in their opinion:
“Arguably, erotic dance is expressive conduct that communicates, which could be deserving of some level of First Amendment protection. If that is so, fondling and caressing may be protected expressive conduct when part of an erotic dance.
Further, even if fondling and caressing as part of an erotic dance are afforded First Amendment protection as expressive conduct that communicates, the protection is not absolute. Such conduct remains subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.
Therefore, to the extent that LVMC 6.35.100(I) reaches conduct arguably protected by the First Amendment, it is not overbroad so long as it is a valid time, place, and manner restriction of the arguably protected conduct that communicates, i.e., fondling and caressing as part of an erotic dance …”
And what exactly does that mean? It means that despite the Nevada Supreme Court’s finding that the Las Vegas erotic dance code was not unconstitutionally vague, none of the 13 dancers who had been busted for violating the code were brought back to court to reface the charges against them. Following that decision, the D.A. would have had to argue that although caressing as part of an erotic-dance routine may be protected communication under the First Amendment, a strip-club performance is not the proper time or place for such protected activities to occur. Right.
The important point from my perspective as a guy who enjoys VIP room performances is that lap dancing has been recognized by the courts as an art form, or at least as a form of communication. It may be a low-brow art form that’s not viewed as art by most people, or a communication that many people might find offensive, but it communicates. It’s protected.
And that’s appropriate. Think about it. Every dancer’s act is different. Some act like giggly girls, some like wanton sluts, some like the girl next door, some like they’re so hip you’re not even in their world. I absolutely love watching dancers do their thing. There’s a reason why dancers in the Vegas strip clubs have a large and loyal following among local aficionados. Many of these women are performance artists of considerable talent. They are a joy to be around. They really do make men feel good.
Still, it surprised me that the Nevada Supreme Court recognized that lap dancing could be seen as an artistic form of communication. One thing I’ve learned from following this story is that there are some honest and thoughtful judges in the courts in this state.
What Does This Mean For Us?
It means that lap dancing in the Vegas topless clubs is pretty loose and the VIP room activities are even looser. It doesn’t mean that you have a “right” to feel up any dancer who sits in your lap.
The important point is that if she allows you to touch her, you’re extremely unlikely to be arrested for doing so and she probably won’t be arrested for allowing (or even encouraging) you to do so. If she wants to exercise her First Amendment rights while she’s in your lap, long live the Constitution!
And in practice, Las Vegas is probably the best city in the United States for any man for whom high-contact lap dances are his preferred form of strip club entertainment. For a guide to the best strip clubs in Las Vegas for mileage, see Vegas Strip Club Mileage.
But, keep in mind …
The Bluenoses Never Give Up
Almost three years after the Court’s historic second-base-qualifies-as-art decision, according to an article in the 10/7/09 edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Metro proposed a new municipal code that would put limits on what dancers can do during a lap dance. According to Vice Lt. Karen Hughes, she was concerned that dancers were trying to arouse customers so they could solicit acts of prostitution.
Were strip club customers complaining about this? I don’t think so. Did Lieutenant Hughes, perhaps when she was innocently relaxing in a VIP room with a stripper, feel herself being bullied into an unwanted state of arousal by a dancer who was intending to do illegal things with her? I doubt it. So why was she “concerned?” Do the cops even realize it’s the job of a stripper to arouse patrons? That’s why guys go to strip clubs and that’s what the dancers get paid for.
According to the R-J, the vice cops told the county commissioners that “…an odd loophole prevents an undercover officer from citing a dancer who crosses the line …” Yeah, right. An odd loophole. It’s called the U.S. Constitution.
This town is crawling with actual prostitutes and legal ones are available in brothels just a town away. Guys don’t go to strip clubs to get laid and dancers don’t work in these clubs in order to perform acts of prostitution. I’m not saying there’s no prostitution in the strip clubs. There’s prostitution in all kinds of nightclubs and bars and entertainment facilities, especially in this town that brags about its ability to keep secrets.
But what better place for it than in a strip club, out of the public’s eye, off the street. Let it go. Every patron in these clubs is an adult who’s there of his own volition, and every dancer is an adult trying to do a show that the customers like. The only ones complaining about the shows were in the D.A.’s office. Is this town so free of vice that our cops have to go after lap dancers?
This is Vegas, not Salt Lake City. I suspect many cops would agree with me that busting women, many of whom are raising kids, sometimes supporting their parents and other family members, for crimes against no one—in an occupation that employs 10,000 women as professional dancers in this town—is a cop-out on the job of serving and protecting. I think the City was embarrassing Metro by sending them out to do these kinds of busts.
The Deja Vu Bogus Prostitution Bust
Then one night in September 2009, 13 dancers at Déjà Vu Showgirls were busted for soliciting undercover vice police. Having been in that club many times through the years without being solicited for any act of prostitution, it didn’t surprise me to find out that this was just another case of harassment by Metro Vice.
Here’s what happens in the Las Vegas nude club VIP rooms. (And Déjà Vu Showgirls was a nude club at the time of this bust. It has since become a topless club serving alcoholic beverages.) You give the dancer the club’s set fee and she says, “If you want to touch me, it’ll be ten dollars (or twenty dollars) extra.” That’s it.
In any of the topless clubs, customers don’t have to pay extra to touch the dancers. Touching is standard. But in many of the nude clubs—where the house takes a large portion of the VIP room charge (since the nude clubs can’t make money off a bar tab) some dancers only provide an “air dance” unless the customer tips them extra. They’re just trying to make somewhere in the neighborhood of what the dancers in the topless clubs make for VIP-room shows.
The vice cops were characterizing this offer from the dancers to take money for the right to touch them as soliciting for an act of prostitution. It doesn’t matter that these dancers won’t do anything that isn’t being done in every topless club in town for no extra tip. It’s the fact that they’re offering a specific act for extra money that gave the cops an excuse to bust them. So what happened? The charges were dropped. There was no basis for the arrest.
But it’s not right that they actually busted these dancers in the first place, took them away in handcuffs, and made these 13 young women, who were only doing what 10,000 other dancers in this town were doing, spend a night in jail.
In addition to publishing these women’s names in the local press, they also got full-color photos of them posted online with their real names so the world could see that they were arrested for prostitution. And it didn’t matter that it was a bogus arrest and the charges were dropped. The photos of those dancers stayed online for years and the web site never reported that the charges were dropped. No note of public apology saying sorry, girls, our mistake, hope none of your friends or families happened to see those photos …
What about Real Crime in Vegas?
This type of thing happens in cities everywhere, but it shouldn’t be happening in Las Vegas. This town is supposed to be above that. This state is supposed to be above that. Our Supreme Court has already ruled. The general public in this town does not hate strippers or lap dancers or hookers. We’re here because we like a loose town, a town that doesn’t have a stick up its municipal ass.
If I were a Metro cop, I’d be ashamed to go home and tell my wife what I did that day. Busted a lap dancer …
I never saw any follow-up to that proposed new municipal code, so perhaps Metro didn’t have the power to amend the Constitution. But even without a new municipal code, dancers in Las Vegas strip clubs continued to be selectively busted by Metro vice. There was a big bust at Little Darlings a year after the Deja Vu bust.
The good news for us guys is that the violation of dancers’ First Amendment rights by harassing them for non-crimes is applied with total misogyny. None of the tourists or respectable businessmen in this community who blow thousands of dollars on tips to dancers ever have to face harassment by the police or embarrassment in the courts. Only the young ladies will get dragged to the pokey, while we guys who pay for it and love it and live for it go on about our business as usual. That’s Vegas, baby. Business as usual …
As a diehard liberaltarian, I’m of the opinion that women own their own bodies and that prostitution should be decriminalized. There are valid social reasons for regulating prostitution. I have no argument with laws against child prostitution. And I understand efforts to reduce sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. But prostitution is not a big problem in the Las Vegas strip clubs.
If you drive out to Pahrump and go to a legal brothel, you’ll find that actual prostitutes don’t sell lap dances. They don’t offer men a few minutes of dry-humping for $20 or the right to feel them up for $30. That’s not why men go to prostitutes and these aren’t acts of prostitution that need to be regulated. Dry-humping and feeling up girls is what junior high school kids do at parties when their parents aren’t looking.
Lap dancing doesn’t transmit disease or cause pregnancy or hurt anyone in any way. Who are the prissy moral guardians that find harmless playfulness among consenting adults to be so dangerous to society that they feel compelled to force their bullshit on the rest of us? Go ahead and bust nightclubs that promote underage drinking. But wasting our tax dollars harassing lap dancers?
It’s been a few years now since any big Vegas strip club bust has made the local news, so maybe the City Attorney’s office finally got the message that it was a waste of time trying to bust artists for being creative. Maybe it just took a few years for Metro Vice to comprehend exactly what the First Amendment says and what the Nevada Supreme Court spelled out so elegantly in their groundbreaking 2006 decision. To summarize their ruling in three words:
It’s Vegas, baby…