Trouble in Sin City: protecting sexy workers' civil rights.

AuthorMcGinley, Ann C.


"What happens here, stays here," is the familiar motto that Las Vegas promoters adopted in 2003 to encourage more visitors in search of adult entertainment. (1) While Las Vegas has always been known for its libertarian attitudes toward gambling and sexually provocative shows, after a short, failed attempt during the 1990's to characterize itself as a family destination, (2) the city has turned up the heat. (3) Las Vegas, which relies increasingly on selling sex appeal to promote its value to the public, has become the number one adult entertainment destination in the United States. (4)

Of course "Gentlemen's Clubs" (strip clubs) thrive in Las Vegas, and prostitution, both illegal (in Clark and Washoe Counties, homes to Las Vegas and Reno) and legal (within a one hour's drive of the Las Vegas Strip) is ever-present. However, the more surprising change in Las Vegas is the ever-increasing sexualization of the resorts and casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. (5) Following the lead of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and the Palms, many casinos have sexualized the cocktail servers, pool attendants, and even in some places, the card dealers who are employed in their establishments. (6) In the most successful resorts, the sexualization goes only one way: it is aimed at pleasing the heterosexual male. (7) The place oozes with masculinity and female sexuality. Female, but not male, workers are highly sexualized. Casinos have added "pleasure pits" on casino floors where women either tend bar or serve drinks in even skimpier costumes than those worn on the casino floor. (8)

It is not only the casino floors, however, where hyper-sexualization appears and is used as a marketing tool. Casinos feature nightclubs, "European" (topless) pools, and ultra lounges that restrict access to adults and specialize in adult entertainment. (9) All of this hyper-sexualization is designed to improve the casinos' bottom line, and to some extent, it appears to have worked. At least until the recent economic downturn, the Las Vegas casinos demonstrated extraordinary growth early in the twenty-first century. (10)

There is, however, trouble in paradise. A number of these clubs (both day and night) have been sued; (11) others have closed due to illegal prostitution; (12) some have paid large fines to the Nevada Gaming Control Board because of illegal activity; (13) in others, police have arrested patrons for prostitution and illegal drugs. (14) The most recent and perhaps most troubling case is a lawsuit brought by a young woman who worked at a nightclub operated by The Light Group, (15) a management company that runs nightclubs and restaurants in Las Vegas. Allegations in the lawsuit included prostitution, illegal drugs, and the use of sex and drugs to groom an underage girl for employment as a VIP hostess in a nightclub located in a casino. (16) These allegations do not stand alone. Other workers and the Gaming Control Board have made numerous allegations that raise serious issues concerning the safety and civil rights of women working in the casinos.

This Article examines the legal issues surrounding the hyper-sexualization of women workers in the casinos, with an emphasis on women workers' legal rights to be free of sex discrimination and sexual harassment on the casino floor, in the pleasure pits, in the pool clubs, and in the nightclubs. It will consider how federal, state, and county law can protect these women without unduly interfering with the economic benefits to the casinos, the community, and the individual workers. The Article gives special consideration to the role the state-licensing agency--the Nevada Gaming Commission--should play in regulating sexual and/or sexualizing behavior that may be harmful to women employees. The Article is relevant not only to Nevada casinos. Across the country, states are legalizing casino gambling and the casinos in other states are also attempting to offer highly-sexualized environments. (17) Thus, this Article suggests a regulatory regime that would protect women in all states where casino gambling occurs in hyper-sexualized settings.

Part II analyzes the historical background leading to Las Vegas' position as the adult entertainment capital of the world, and discusses the important link between increased sexuality in the casinos and economic prosperity. Part III demonstrates how some of the casino properties have stepped over the line, leading to large fines and closures, complaints by the State Gaming Control Board, and settlements for heavy fines. Part IV analyzes how the behavior of customers and managers affects employees, particularly female employees. Part V examines potential legal remedies to assure the safety and well-being of female employees and proposes a combination of individual lawsuits and the attention of the Gaming Control Board to the condition of employees in the most vulnerable positions. Finally, the Article concludes that a strict regulatory regime is necessary to protect the rights of all employees who work in sexualized casino environments in Nevada and across the country.


    Las Vegas is the center of adult entertainment and it intends to stay that way. In the 1990s the city experimented with marketing itself as a family destination, (18) but the city soon learned that the family destination approach did not attract sufficient visitors. (19) Mayor Oscar Goodman, who was first elected in 1999 and re-elected in landslides to two additional terms in office until he left because of term limits (his wife was elected to follow him), (20) emphasized the sexy aspect of Las Vegas by going everywhere with a couple of showgirls adorned with feather boas. (21) He also linked fun with drinking alcohol, specifically, Bombay Sapphire Gin. In 2002, Southern Wine and Spirits paid Goodman $100,000 to endorse Bombay Sapphire Gin (he donated the money to charities). (22) Mayor Goodman, who has declared himself the Happiest Mayor of the Greatest City in the World," (23) is a living marketer for the party aspect of Las Vegas. (24)

    At the time of Goodman's election, Las Vegas' economy was booming. In 1989, the opening of the Mirage Hotel and Casino ushered in a new era in Las Vegas. (25) Between 1989 and 2000, eleven megaresorts were built on or near the Las Vegas Strip. (26) These resorts differed from earlier hotels that focused only on gaming; now the hotels were full-service resorts with many restaurants, entertainment options, shows, spas, retailing establishments, and gyms. (27) These resorts made Las Vegas the "most visited place on earth." (28) In the 1990s alone, Las Vegas grew by 650,000 inhabitants, nearly doubling its population. (29) Henderson, a city adjacent to Las Vegas to the Southeast, surpassed the population of Reno in summer 1999 to become the second largest city in the state. (30) It appeared that the boom would never end. (31) Within a year and a half of Goodman's swearing in, however, the city hit an economic snag after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. (32) Reports surfaced that the 9/11 terrorists had visited Las Vegas and had planned the World Trade attacks there. (33) These reports led to fear that Las Vegas, with its high profile "sin" atmosphere and airport adjacent to the Strip, would be a target for terrorist attacks. For the first time in many years, the number of tourists to Las Vegas declined. (34)

    Besides a fear of terrorist attacks, there were other threats to the Las Vegas economy: Indian gaming, an increase in legalized gambling in other states, (35) and the proliferation of online gambling. (36) Some doubted whether international tourists from the Middle and Far East who could go to new casinos in Dubai and Macau would continue to visit Nevada, especially given the new security restrictions on air travel. Travel from the Far East, in particular, declined drastically. (37)

    All of these concerns led to new strategies for attracting a younger customer base, particularly customers from California who would not have to fly to come to Las Vegas. If it was going to compete with Hollywood, Las Vegas had to become a hipper community, a town that was younger, sexier, and more attractive to VIPs like Tiger Woods, Paris Hilton, and George Clooney. (38) Years later, by 2008, when the deep economic recession hit Las Vegas hard, the city would continue to emphasize its sexual, partying "sin" side, but the groundwork solidifying this reputation had already been laid in the late 1990s and the early to mid-2000s.

    However, there is one problem that Las Vegas faces as a result of emphasizing sexuality. To achieve maximum effect and profit, Las Vegas must walk the fine line between a bit naughty and downright raunchy. While Las Vegas casinos may go up to the line, they cannot step over it; they cannot tolerate illegal behaviors that would harm the reputation of Las Vegas casinos or of those located elsewhere in the State. To be profitable, Las Vegas must be considered a safe place for visitors of all ages. The State takes this goal very seriously. The gaming industry is subject to extensive regulation over licensure of gaming. (39) Those properties with unrestricted gaming licenses--the resorts and casinos--must comply with the rigid regulations that emphasize the importance of Nevada's image with the public. The regulations govern who can get a gaming license, how the licensee may operate, and the types of advertising in which the licensee may engage. Although in another context these regulations might be challenged as unconstitutional and unduly restrictive, Nevada gaming establishments seem to recognize the importance of these regulations. The extensive regulation grew from the presence in Las Vegas' history of organized crime in ownership of the casino businesses. (40) Las Vegas is very proud today that the mob no longer owns and runs the casinos. This change in ownership...

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