Las Vegas finds limits on decorum

SUNDAY, SEPT. 20, 2009

‘Topless, lewd activity’ brings crackdown

LAS VEGAS – Even in Las Vegas, apparently, there are limits.

In July, gaming regulators slapped the Planet Hollywood casino with a $500,000 fine for its Prive nightclub’s bad behavior, including “topless and lewd activity” and dumping club-goers in the casino “in various states of consciousness.”

The same month, the Rio closed its Sapphire topless pool, managed by a local gentlemen’s club, after authorities arrested 10 people on suspicion of prostitution and drug crimes. Over Labor Day weekend, eight more arrests on similar charges were made at the Hard Rock Hotel’s pool club, Rehab.

It’s all part of a crackdown by authorities on what they see as clubs gone wild.

“The quarrel is not, ‘You guys are offering entertainment that’s going to offend Middle America.’ We all want to keep Middle America coming to us to have fun. But we have rules,” said Randall Sayre of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

During the heyday of the “What happens here, stays here” tourism campaign, the must-have accessory for any Las Vegas Strip casino was a pulsating nightclub that lured Hollywood starlets and drunken tourists willing to pay for a few hours of shimmer.

That has sometimes proved to be an ill-fated mix. Although the clubs are reliable moneymakers and publicity machines, some have vexed officials for their mimicry of fraternity parties – including stripping contests, fistfights and accusations of drug use and sexual assaults.

In the last decade, smoky lounges on the Strip gave way to three-story mega-clubs and booze-drenched pool parties.

Most of the clubs, which pull in tens of millions of dollars from high-volume sales of alcohol and special seating, successfully keep thousands of tourists under control. But the venues, jostling for the same young crowd, have a penchant for envelope-pushing – and the casinos, Sayre said, have mostly kept their hands off the cash machines.

In the last two years, Clark County has warned clubs about a wet boxer shorts contest and women shedding shirts at events named “Lose the Tan Lines” and “Boobs or Bust.” Some clubs launched stripping contests; others tried to sneak around no-nudity ordinances by slathering women in body paint.

“It seemed our position that body paint was nudity was not completely understood,” said Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin.

Many night-life problems are far graver, however, which could prove problematic for casinos in the long run. Gaming regulators can hold them responsible for most anything that unfolds on their properties.

“They’re not operating a club out on the street in the middle of L.A. – if you want to get rowdy there, it’s fine,” said Jeff Voyles, who teaches casino management at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “When those people spill out into a casino, you’ve got a problem.”

In 2006, the state Gaming Control Board told casinos it was concerned about reports of violent, excessively drunk and underage club-goers. In the last year, authorities have noticed an uptick in prostitution and narcotics crimes at Strip hot spots, said Officer Bill Cassell of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

It was “Prive-gate” that truly rattled the town’s after-dark scene.

In July, when Planet Hollywood agreed to the $500,000 fine, which Prive partly paid, the casino also admitted to a lengthy list of violations: At Prive, patrons were involved in drugs and brawls, and minors were served alcohol. Some club-goers were hospitalized after drinking too much. Police calls to Planet Hollywood soared, and authorities noted “significant prostitution activity” near the club.

Planet Hollywood agreed to monitor Prive more closely and retooled the club’s lease, which the casino can more easily terminate if problems resurface.


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