MOUND HOUSE, Nev. — Nevada's legal brothels are feeling like the wife who slips into her sexiest negligee and still can't get her husband to put the newspaper down.
The bordellos are practically begging the state of Nevada to tax them, hoping the extra revenue for schools, parks and health care will endear them to the public and give them more political security and, ultimately, more business.
But the politicians are not interested.
Last month, one proposal to impose the tax failed to come to a vote in an Assembly committee; another was gutted in a Senate committee. A spokesman for Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn said the idea was "not something the governor is going to waste any time on."
"The governor just thinks it's a local government issue and not part of his agenda," spokesman Greg Bortolin said. "He thinks, as well, that he would be affirming the industry if he came out in support of the bill."
Nevada is the only state where prostitution is legal. But the state keeps the industry at arm's length. It does not levy a business tax on houses of ill repute, it bars them from advertising, and it doesn't allow them in the state's biggest urban area, Las Vegas.
In fact, the decision of whether to allow prostitution is made on a county-by-county basis, with state law largely silent on the matter.
"We're the only industry in the state that in one move of the Legislature or the governor can be swept away entirely," said Nevada Brothel Association lobbyist George Flint. "If more people move to this state with Nebraska or Iowa or California license plates, the old Nevada mentality that always tolerated us is going to be diluted."
So Flint came up with a solution: "Look, if we contribute and do nice things for the state, maybe the state will like us better."
Two years ago during a budget shortage, the brothels came close to getting their wish, but last-minute negotiations inadvertently exempted them from a tax on live entertainment.
This year, they had an unlikely ally in an anti-prostitution lawmaker who sponsored a measure proposing a tax of about $2 per customer. It was expected to bring some $3.2 million to the state over the next two fiscal years.
"I don't believe in legal prostitution, but I'm not a zealot about it, either," said the sponsor, Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, a Democrat from Reno. "They're a legal business, they should contribute like every other legal business, and I'm willing to make that happen."
Brothels are legal in 10 of Nevada's 17 counties, which charge a quarterly business fee ranging from $100 to $20,000 and a work permit fee of $50 per prostitute.
Some counties get as much as 25 percent of their business fees from brothels. Lyon County, home to the famous Moonlite Bunnyranch, will collect $316,000 in brothel business fees and $25,000 in permit fees next year.
But many brothel owners are willing to pay more. The state's 28 bordellos make $20 million to $50 million annually, said Geoff Arnold, president of the Nevada Brothel Association.
Many think paying a tax will ultimately help them lift the ban on advertising. They want to be able to use billboards or fliers, or at least advertise openly in the phone book. (Brothels are now listed under "massage" in the Yellow Pages.)
Bobbi Davis, owner of the Shady Lady Ranch, a brothel about 120 miles outside Las Vegas, said paying taxes is the way to go.
"There's a price, sometimes, for legitimacy," he said.
Precious, a prostitute at the Shady Lady Ranch, said that even if the owners pass the tax on to the girls, it won't be a problem.
"What's a couple extra dollars off? I can waste that on lip gloss or new eyeliner," she said. "That's chump change for what some of the girls make here."
Prostitutes at Shady Lady Ranch make up to $1,000 daily during peak tourist season, she said. (Brothels and prostitutes are subject to federal income tax on their overall earnings, but Nevada has no state income tax.)
Dennis Hof, owner of the BunnyRanch, is against the idea. He said brothels already pay their fair share and should not have to "pay for legitimacy."
Flint said the tax offer stands, should future legislatures want to take him up on it. In the meantime, he said, "I bow to the wisdom of the Legislature."
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