By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Economically, the brothel business is no small thing. As Jessi Winchester, ex–working girl turned political candidate, and author of From Bordello to Ballot Box (and the phrase, “In the bordellos I worked with professional businesswomen who rented their bodies, in politics I was surrounded by whores who sold their souls”), pointed out, “Brothel taxes literally support whole counties in Nevada.”
Currently, there are roughly 300 licensed Nevada sex workers, 30 cathouses and one prospective Fleiss-run doghouse. The Nevada State Health Division estimates there are 365,000 paid sex acts annually in Nevada, roughly 1,000 a day. According to George Flint, chief lobbyist for the Nevada Brothel Association, the average customer drops about $600 for an amorous adventure, which adds up to a multimillion-dollar industry. It wasn’t too far in the past that the taxes on the Mustang Ranch accounted for one-third of the Storey County budget. These days, Dennis Hof alone contributes $200,000 a year to state coffers. In Nye County, where Fleiss plans on opening her establishment, similar sin taxes pay for the $120,000-a-year EMT service, among other things.
Oddly, the last, and perhaps most formidable, of Fleiss’ hurdles is the lobbyist George Flint himself. It was Joe Conforte who started the Nevada Brothel Association and George Flint whom he hired to run it. Fleiss maintains that Flint’s problem stems from her refusal to join his association, but whatever the reason, Flint has been the most publicly vocal about his dislike for both the stud farm and its owner.
“Who knows what the fuck that girl’s going to do next?” said Flint, when I phoned his office. “She’s not planning on opening anything. All she wants is the publicity. Let me tell you something: We’re not so stable that the business can sustain this kind of an attack. If she tries to open her stud farm, she’s going to get the whole industry outlawed.”
Bob Price, who served 28 years in the Nevada state Legislature and has been a longtime brothel supporter, disagrees. “There’s no such danger,” he said. “Every now and then legislation gets introduced to shut down the brothels, but the bills never make it out of committee. We’re very protective of our old-time traditions here. Like it or not, prostitution is just one of those traditions.”
I was still eager to check out Fleiss’ twist on those traditions. So the morning after the truck debacle, I rang her at home. She told me to get on the road, then — in typical Fleiss fashion — told me to call her back in five minutes. She was always telling people to call her back in five minutes. Usually she answered.
We got on the road, but she didn’t answer. She didn’t answer while we were cruising through California, and she didn’t answer when we reached Nevada. Not knowing where in Nye County she lived, we decided to head to Las Vegas to test an idea.
A few weeks back I had spoken with Nye County Commissioner Candice Trummell, one of the two fundamentalists who now control Fleiss’ fate. She was up-front about her religiosity. “My father is a Southern Baptist minister,” she said, right off the bat. “I’m opposed to legalized prostitution. But as long as Fleiss doesn’t break any laws and as long as the public wants this, I won’t let my personal agenda stand in her way.”
That said, it was Trummell who recently wore the wire that led to the arrest of longtime Nevada brothel owner Joe Richards (the case has yet to go to court, but the state claims that Richards tried to bribe Trummell to ease land restrictions that prevented him from opening another cathouse). Either way, the key here is that Trummell seems to recognize that, at least in part, God put Nevada on this Earth to cater to the public’s desire. One of the big unknowns in Fleiss’ plan is whether or not women desire to pay for sex.
It’s a good point. At least until you consider that there are 118 pages of male “entertainers” in the Las Vegas phone book, including Bad Boy Entertainment, US Male, Las Vegas Males, Full Service Male, College Jock Rent and Budget Boys.
Obviously, not every woman out for a sexcapade is finding what she’s looking for in a bar, or can get it if she wants it. What about the discreet, the aged, the overweight, the paralyzed, the infirm, the merely curious or those who might find a controlled setting safer than trolling for strangers? Fleiss points out that all-male revues are increasingly popular. In Las Vegas, these include Thunder From Down Under, advertised as “eye candy for women of all ages everywhere,” and Tabu, which promises “a sea of sensual sophistication” to which “you’re invited; your inhibitions aren’t.” To say nothing of the male strippers at the innumerable Vegas bachelorette parties who — judging from the orgy photos all over the Internet — are a full-contact far cry from the Chippendales of old.
Janet Lever, Cal State Los Angeles sociologist and women’s-sexuality expert, believes there’s definitely a place for a stud farm. “There’s no question there’s a market. It’s really a question of presentation. If it looks like a bordello, then it probably won’t have a lot of appeal, but if it looks like a spa, like a place where women can be pampered and indulge in fantasies, then there are plenty of women who would prefer a professional.”
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