Where Prostitution Is Legal In Nevada
Where Prostitution Is Legal In Nevada

Is prostitution legal in Nevada?

Prostitution is a sensitive subject in a lot of states in the United States, and Nevada is the only U.S. state where prostitution is legally permitted in some form. Prostitution is legal in 10 of Nevada's 16 counties, although only six allow it in every municipality. Here are everything that you need to know about the prostitution and laws in Nevada.

Prostitution is legal in 10 of Nevada's 16 counties, although only six allow it in every municipality. Seven counties have at least one active brothel, which mainly operate in isolated, rural areas. The state's most populated counties, Clark (which contains Las Vegas) and Washoe (which contains Reno), are among those that do not permit prostitution. It is also illegal in Nevada's capital, Carson City, an independent city.

Despite there being a legal option, the vast majority of prostitution in Nevada takes place illegally in the metropolitan areas of Las Vegas and Reno. About 66 times more money is spent by customers on illegal prostitution in Nevada than in the regulated brothels. Some scholars have argued that Nevada’s brothels should not be seen as aberrant or deviant, "but rather are part and parcel of today's neoliberal consumer economy ... in which personal consumer choice is elevated to a moral right".

Photo: Business Insider
Photo: Business Insider

Nevada is the only state in the union where prostitution is legal. However, Nevada permits prostitution only in licensed brothels located in just eight counties in the state. In the other counties and outside of licensed brothels in the counties where prostitution is legal, prostitution and solicitation are misdemeanor crimes in Nevada.

Pandering is illegal in Nevada and is a felony. The crimes of soliciting and pandering carry greater penalties when the crimes involve individuals under the age of 18, and those penalties include registration as a sex offender under Nevada law.

Where is it legal?

Nevada law prohibits solicitation and prostitution unless it takes place in a licensed house of prostitution. State law bans licensed brothels in counties with populations of 700,000 or more (currently Clark County, home of Las Vegas).

Only 10 counties in Nevada allow prostitution, and even then, only within licensed brothels. Churchill County allows prostitution, but the last brothel license was surrendered in 2004.

Esmeralda, Lander, Mineral, Nye and Storey County allow brothels throughout. Elko, Humboldt, Lyon, and White Pine County only allow brothels in some incorporated communities.

Prostitution is illegal in Clark, Washoe, Carson City, Pershing, Douglas, Eureka and Lincoln counties. That includes Las Vegas and Reno, as well as the state capital.

What Is Prostitution and Solicitation in Nevada?

Nevada law defines prostitution as engaging in sexual conduct for a fee. Sexual conduct includes sexual intercourse, oral-genital contact, or any touching of the genitalia or other intimate parts of a person in order to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of either person. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.295.)

It is a misdemeanor crime in Nevada to engage in or solicit (that is, seek out) prostitution except in a licensed house of prostitution. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.354.) A person who seeks out sexual conduct for a fee (also known as a "john") is soliciting prostitution. The crime of solicitation increases to a felony, with greater penalties, if the john solicits a person under the age of 18. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.295 (3).)

What Is Pandering in Nevada?

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

A person may be convicted of pandering in Nevada if he or she induces, persuades, encourages, entices, or compels another person to become or continue to work as a prostitute. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.300 (a).) So, this crime encompasses a person's efforts to persuade another person to work as a legal prostitute in a licensed brothel, as well as efforts to persuade another person to perform sex for money outside of that legal setting. In other words, while it is legal in Nevada to both perform and seek sex for money in one of the state's licensed brothels, it is illegal for anyone to recruit sex workers.

Pandering is a felony in Nevada, and the penalty for the crime is enhanced where the target of the panderer is under 18 years of age. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.295 (2)(b).) The Nevada pandering law does not apply to johns. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.295 (3).)

The intent to persuade another to engage in prostitution is essential to the crime of pandering and, where the intent is present, it is irrelevant that it is not successful.

No Defense For Man Who Pandered Undercover Cop

Photo: The Denver Post
Photo: The Denver Post

A Nevada court upheld the conviction of a man for pandering a plainclothes officer engaged in a police sting operation on the Las Vegas Strip. During the incident leading to his arrest, the man had given the target of his efforts tips on how to interview johns to determine if they were undercover cops—advice he apparently failed to follow. Ignoring the irony of the situation, the man argued on appeal that the undercover officer had no intention of becoming a prostitute, so pandering was impossible. The court ruled that the crime turned on the defendant's intent to induce another person to engage in prostitution, not on the possibility of her doing so.

It is a felony in Nevada to receive the earnings of a prostitute without consideration (meaning, without offering anything in return, such as a job in a licensed brothel). (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.320.) And, it is also a felony to transport any person into or within Nevada with the intent to induce them to engage in prostitution. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.340.)

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Laws Governing Brothels in Nevada

Although prostitution is legal in Nevada, it is subject to many restrictions. And, as noted above, outside of licensed brothels in the eight counties where it is legal, prostitution is a crime. Even in the counties where prostitution is legal, there are limits on brothel location and who may work at them.

Restrictions on Brothel Location

A brothel licensed in Nevada may not be operated within 400 yards of a school or house of worship. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.380.)

Nevada also outlaws the operation of a brothel in a building that fronts, or has entrances or exits onto, a principal business street or thoroughfare anywhere in the state. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.390.) This law extends to owners of property that is rented to others.

HIV Testing

Anyone arrested for prostitution must submit to a test to detect exposure to the human immunodeficiency virus ("HIV"). (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.356.) And, anyone who engages in prostitution, even in a licensed brothel, after being notified that he or she tested positive for HIV (whether as a result of a court-ordered test after arrest or otherwise) may be charged with a felony. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.358.)

Defenses

A person charged with prostitution, solicitation, pandering, or other prostitution-related offenses may raise a number of defenses. Let's take a look at a few of them.

No "Sexual Conduct"

Prostitution in Nevada is defined as sexual conduct in return for compensation. Under Nevada law, sexual conduct includes intimate touching intended for the arousal or sexual gratification of either party. So, the aesthetician who gives you that smooth "boy-zilian" that you need to don your tiny Speedo at the Mirage's pool is not violating the law—no one involved in a bikini wax intends (or imagines) that either party will experience arousal or sexual gratification.

No Specific Intent to Pander

Julia Roberts will be relieved to know that a Nevada court ruled in 2011 that she is not guilty of pandering, even if some women were drawn into prostitution thanks to her extremely unrealistic and sugar-coated portrayal of prostitution in the film "Pretty Woman." The court noted that a "specific" intent to induce a particular person to engage in prostitution is required in order for a prosecutor to convict a person of pandering. So, Julia and anyone else who has romanticized prostitution to such an extent that impressionable viewers took up the profession can party in Vegas without fear of arrest for pandering. Many in Hollywood will breathe a sigh of relief at the news.

But, as noted above, it is no defense that the target of the pandering has no intention of engaging in prostitution—if a person intends to induce the target into prostitution, that is pandering.

How Are Prostitution-Related Crimes Punished in Nevada?

The penalties for prostitution and related crimes differ based on the particular crime. As noted above, if the prostitute is under 18 years of age, the penalties are increased substantially.

Prostitution and Solicitation

A person convicted of the misdemeanor crime of either prostitution or solicitation in Nevada may face a jail term for not more than six months, a fine of not more than $1,000, or both. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 201.354 (2), 193.150.) Community service may be ordered in lieu of jail or a fine.

A person convicted of felony solicitation of a person under the age of 18 in Nevada may face confinement in a jail for not less than one year and not more than four years, a fine of not more than $5,000, or both. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 201.354 (3), 193.130 (2)(e).) And, a person convicted of soliciting a minor also may be ordered to register as a sex offender. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 179D.115.)

Pandering

A person convicted of the felony of pandering (including transporting another to engage in prostitution) may face imprisonment for not less than one year and not more than four years, a fine of not more than $5,000, or both. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 201.300 (2)(a), 193.130 (2)(d).)

Where the defendant is convicted of pandering a person under the age of 18, the penalty increases to imprisonment for not less than one year and not more than 10 years, the fine increases to not more than $10,000, and the defendant also may be required to register as a sex offender. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 201.300 (2)(b), 193.130 (2)(b), 179D.115.) The court may also increase the fine imposed to up to $100,000 if the victim is between ages 14 and 18, or up to $500,000 if the victim is under the age of 14. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.352.)

A person convicted of the felony of receiving the earnings of a prostitute in Nevada may face imprisonment for not less than one year and not more than four years, a fine of not more than $5,000, or both. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 201.320, 193.130 (2)(d).)

Violation Restrictions on Licensed Brothels

A Nevada court may impose a fine of not more than $500 for operating a brothel within 400 yards of a school or house of worship, or fronting a principal business street or thoroughfare. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 201.380, 201.390.)

Engaging in Prostitution After Testing Positive for HIV

A person convicted of the felony of engaging in prostitution after learning that he or she has tested positive for HIV may face imprisonment of not less than two years and not more than 10 years, a fine of not more than $10,000, or both. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.358 (1)(b).)

Suspension or Revocation of Teaching Certificate

The State of Nevada may suspend or revoke the teaching certificate of a person on the basis of "immoral conduct" or after being charged with a crime involving "immorality or moral turpitude." (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 391.330 (1), 391.314 (7).)

Sex Offender Registration

A person convicted of soliciting a prostitute under 18 years of age, or of pandering where the target is under 18 years of age will also be designated a "sexual offender" under Nevada law. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 179D.115 (1)(c), 179D.441.) In addition to any prison sentence and/or fine, this designation requires that the offender's name(s), addresses, fingerprints, and other identifying information be placed on a public database and with local police departments. Registered sex offenders are restricted in where they can live, work, or even be present in Nevada.

History of Prostitution in Nevada

Sheri's Ranch brothel in Pahrump is seen on Thursday, April 19,2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)
Sheri's Ranch brothel in Pahrump is seen on Thursday, April 19,2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Brothels have been allowed in Nevada since the middle of the 20th 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 enact 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 enact legislation 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. (Princess Sea Industries, one of the parties involved in the case, was Plankinton's company that owned the Chicken Ranch.) 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.

How many brothels are there in Nevada?

A count by the L.A. Times in early May revealed there are 20 operational brothels in Nevada.

Nye County has four, including two owned by Dennis Hof. Lyon County has four, all of which are owned by Hof.

There is also one in Storey County, the Mustang Ranch in Sparks; one in Mineral County, the Wild Cat Brothel in Mina; two in White Pine County, the Stardust Ranch Brothel and Big 4 Ranch in Ely; one in Lander County, Hot Desert Club Girls in Battle Mountain; and seven in Elko County, the Dove Tail Ranch and Sharon’s Brothel and Bar in Carlin, the Desert Rose Gentlemen's Club, Inez’s D&D, Mona’s Ranch and Sue’s Fantasy Club in Elko and Bella’s Hacienda Ranch and Donna’s Ranch in Wells.

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Does Nevada tax prostitution?

Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent
Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent

Although brothels and prostitutes pay a state business license fee, there is no excise tax on sex acts.

In 2009, Democratic then-state Sen. Bob Coffin introduced a bill to apply a $5-per-day tax for customers buying prostitution services. With an estimated 400,000 customer days in Nevada legal brothels each year, the measure was expected to bring in $2 million.

The bill failed a committee vote and didn’t move forward in the Legislature even though prostitutes and others in the industry voiced their support for a tax. Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons had earlier expressed his disapproval of the bill, telling NPR: "I'm not a supporter of legalizing prostitution in Nevada. So by taxing it, there's a recognition of the legality of it. And that's all I want to say."

Has Nevada tried to end legal prostitution?

In 2011, Democratic then-Sen. Harry Reid called on legislators to ban prostitution in a speech to lawmakers.

“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, adding that he’d met with visiting business leaders who were shocked to learn there were operational brothels in Storey County.

But legislators never took up the cause, and Gov. Brian Sandoval said the matter was up to individual counties.

A new movement to ban prostitution in select counties has cropped up this spring. Efforts are underway to ban prostitution in Lyon and Nye counties through county-wide votes.

Can brothels advertise?

Nevada law prohibits brothels from advertising in jurisdictions where local ordinances or state statutes ban prostitution. In jurisdictions where brothels are allowed, it’s illegal for them to advertise “in any public theater, on the public streets of any city or town, or on any public highway.”

How much are the prostitutes paid?

Workers for Dennis Hof say they keep half of their earnings, with the house keeping the other half, but they also have to pay rent, food, transportation and other costs associated with brothel operations.

Prostitutes must also pay for weekly STD tests and sex worker registration cards, which vary in price by county. Nye County charges prostitutes $150 each quarter to register, plus another $150 annually; there are 97 prostitutes registered in the county for the current quarter.

Workers are independent contractors and get business licenses from the State of Nevada.

“They operate like any other independently licensed business,” Hof wrote in his book. “They don’t get health benefits, vacation pay, or retirement, and they are responsible for their own taxes.”

Some, like Moore, are critical of calling the arrangement “independent,” citing policies governing when prostitutes can leave the premises and pressure to aggressively market themselves on online message boards.

How much revenue do brothels bring local governments?

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

It varies by county.

Last fiscal year, Nye County collected $141,779 in revenue from worker registration cards and brothel license fees.

Nye County brothels themselves face different licensing fees depending on size. Brothels of up to five prostitutes pay just over $2,300 per quarter. Brothels with 26 or more prostitutes working at once would pay $46,900 per quarter.

Lyon County brothels pay anywhere from about $20,000 to $26,000 a quarter in licensing fees, depending on how many rooms are in the business. In a year, the county brings in about $384,000 in brothel license, liquor license and business license fees from the four establishments.

“Those taxes support doctors, a police force, EMTs, and even the public schools,” Hof wrote in his book.

Do prostitutes enjoy the work?

Women who are or have been employed in Nevada’s brothels and spoke to the The Nevada Independent in interviews have offered widely different assessments of the work.

Lexi James of Love Ranch North attended a Lyon County Commission meeting to oppose efforts to shut down brothels there.

“They are trying to say they’re saving our lives but they are really just trying to save our souls. And I’m good. I have a very close relationship with God. I don’t need anyone religious stepping in and telling me what I do for a living is wrong,” she said. “What I do is not sex. I sell love. I provide services to disabled clients, widowers, divorcees, helping couples spice things up.”

Cara Rain, another brothel worker, said voters who are deciding the fate of brothels should learn more about it.

“I think they need to educate themselves on all of this completely,” she said. “I chose this profession without ever being in the sex industry prior and I’m completely happy here.”

But Moore said the real experience was nothing as glamorous as what appeared on the HBO reality show Cathouse. She said many girls came in with substance abuse issues and in dire economic straits and struggle to make decent money.

“I really did think it was a better place for the girls,” she said, but changed her mind “having seen them come and leave in no better position.”

“Contrary to what they say, ‘you don’t have to be with a guy,’ if you’re not doing your parties and you’re not making money, they get on your case,” she said.

Hof acknowledged in his book that many of his working girls have had a dark past.

“I get another question all the time, and it’s this: ‘What kind of girl becomes a prostitute?’ Well, all sorts of girls. But if I’m going to be honest, some of them come from pretty fucked-up families. I’ve had plenty of girls who were abused,” he said.

Diana Grandmaison, a former pornography actress who spent about four months working in Nevada’s legal brothel industry in 2009, said the pay was barely enough to get by and the experience was demeaning. She said she’s evolved over the years and is now completely against prostitution, legal or otherwise.

“The fact of putting a price on a human being or body part is, to me, inhumane,” she said. “Now I’m totally against it, I want the entire thing shut down and I want it illegal across the nation and across the world.”

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