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Archive for Sunday, July 15, 2001

Brothel’s glitzy plan stirs brouhaha in Nevada

July 15, 2001

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— In Beatty, the Angel's Ladies brothel throws a big barbecue every year for the whole town. Just down the road, in Crystal, the owner of the three houses of prostitution bought the town an ambulance. Across the state in Ely, when a city councilman tried to shut down the only brothel, he was voted out of office.

Although it's banned in Las Vegas and Reno and 49 states prostitution is legal in 10 of Nevada's 17 counties. A remnant of the old West, it is not only tolerated, but often embraced.

The state Health Division estimates 365,000 sex acts 1,000 a day are performed in Nevada's 27 brothels each year.

"I don't think anybody really gets stirred up about it. That's just how it is," sums up Stacy Fisk, a secretary at the Mineral County sheriff's office.

But supporters of Nevada's little advertised and very rural prostitution business fear such low-key acceptance could be threatened with the plan envisioned here in Pahrump.

Chuck Lee, a retired cop and car dealer from Las Vegas, wants to turn Sheri's Ranch, the lesser known of two brothels in Pahrump, into a big-time resort.

Already he's renamed it: The Resort at Sheri's Ranch.

But his plan could forever change the friendly relationship brothels have with their hometowns, and some fear, might even threaten their existence.

"He cannot supermarket the brothel business without it eventually being made illegal in that county," says George Flint, who, as the lobbyist for the Nevada Brothel Assn., is prostitution's main public advocate.

"The brothels survive by not being too visible. Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's going to always be legal."

Mack Moore, owner of the Angel's Ladies brothel in a town north of Pahrump, had a similar reaction. "I'm kind of a little scared. The brothels are not supposed to be out in front. They're supposed to be good for the community, but they're not just supposed to shove it in everybody's face."

Also leery is Nye County Commission Chairman Jeff Taguchi, whose county is home to Beatty and Pahrump and the most brothels of any county.

"It's a different approach to the oldest profession that may cause some difficulty with the public," he said. "Pahrump could possibly be known as a brothel mecca as opposed to a family suburb."

Sixty miles northwest of Las Vegas, down dusty Homestead Road on the edge of Pahrump, Sheri's Ranch has just one neighbor, its competitor, the Chicken Ranch. Otherwise, it's surrounded by acres of desert leading to mountains.

Lee, a laid-back man in his 60s who smokes skinny Capri cigarettes, envisions a glitzy resort with an 18-hole golf course, casino and steakhouse. He points to the 310 acres of emptiness and muses about palm trees, horseback-riding, tennis courts and a beauty salon for the prostitutes.

"We'll probably be the only gentlemen's club in the state with an 18-hole golf course," the silver-haired host says.

"It's going to change the whole face of the business," says a giddy prostitute named "Destyny," who has been working in Nevada brothels for 13 years.

Lee and a partner bought Sheri's Ranch in January and immediately began renovating the sports bar and adding offices. A pool and new wing should be completed by the end of the year. Construction on the golf course is scheduled for next year; a casino is in the early stages of planning.

"It's going to be very nice," Lee says.

Brothels in Nevada can be traced to the early 1860s when women made their way to mining camps. In other states, law enforcement shut them down, says Nevada historian Guy Rocha, who works as state archivist. That didn't happen in Nevada.

"People look at this state as a mecca for places where you can participate in things you can't in other states," he says. "For people who grow up here, it's part of the lifestyle here. It's a matter of choice whether you participate in it."

And that easygoing attitude usually means that threats to the money-making sex industry are not welcome.

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