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Sin City Returns

Las Vegas- In the back seat of a limousine, a sultry woman is breathing heavily as she runs her finger through the chauffeur’s hair.

That’s how one of the new commercials for Las Vegas begins. It’s part of a $25 million marketing campaign the city is kicking off under the slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.”

The commercials are about “freedom” and “expressing yourself,” according to Billy Vassiliades, whose company, R&R Partners, created the ads. “They’re about releasing your own inhibitions and about creating your own fantasies.”

The ads depict a Las Vegas that is an adults-only destination – and one with an X-rating that city officials hope will appeal to a new generation of visitor.

“Vegas empowers the individual to create, to break, their own bounds – something no place else does. Is sex an element of that? Of course,” Vassiliades said.

The idea of transforming Las Vegas into a kind of erotic fantasyland comes at a time when gambling revenues are down. Research by the University of Nevada has found the amount of time the average tourist spends at the casino tables has dropped significantly in recent years. That means tourists are spending their money someplace else.

In 1998, there were just five strip clubs on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Today, there are 20 clubs – all located within a few miles of the major hotels.

“You have to remember that strip clubs used to be a place where people used to go around some red-light district in a town and hide from everybody else,” said Dolores Eliades of Sapphire Gentleman’s Club. “Now they walk in the front door – sometimes with their wives, often times with their girlfriends – and enjoy dancing.”

Since state regulations prohibit stripping in casinos, casinos have found another way to compete.

Virtually every casino has now opened at least one trendy nightclub and bar. And the traditional Las Vegas revue is in many cases topless, and in some cases blatantly erotic.

When Is the Line Crossed?

This fierce fight for tourism dollars is starting to unnerve some of those who actually live in Las Vegas, although they have long been accustomed to looking the other way.

Local officials even held a public hearing to debate the legality of lap dancing, during which Metro police played surveillance tape showing women performing sexual acts during a lap dance. In a surprise move, local officials enacted a law to restrict contact between customers and dancers.

“You know, you want your community to be a reflection of you who you are, and I don’t think that these ad campaigns or that all the sex is at all a reflection of who this community is,” said Lisa Mayo, a Vegas resident for 16 years.

Mayo, three of whose five children were born in Vegas, said she never had a problem with the image or the reality of the Las Vegas Strip – until now.

“They have these mobile billboards that drive around town, and that’s where I draw the line. I say you know what – stay with the tourists – keep it with tourists,” she said. The mobile billboards show topless women.

Mayo said she once saw one of the mobile billboards parked next to a church. “When you start encroaching between my church or a church and my post office – that’s when you’ve crossed the line,” she said.

In fact, the marketing of Vegas’ strip clubs – rather than the strip clubs themselves – appeared to be the bigger issue with Mayo.

“The clubs – if you live here I think you have to accept that that’s part of what they sell,” she said.

The Two Sides of a Facade

Las Vegas really is two cities – one is the Strip and the other is a booming conservative community of nearly 2 million people.

“What you see isn’t necessarily what you get in Las Vegas,” said Ace Robison, a spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, in Las Vegas.

“You see the glitter, you see the glamour. You see the billboards, but what you really get is a community of neighborhoods … a community of church-going people,” he said.

While these two sides of Vegas seem diametrically opposed, they are united by a simple economic reality.

Tourism brings in $31 billion a year. Money generated by casinos and sex clubs helps pay for parks and a solid public school system. So much money comes in from tourists that people here pay no state income tax.

But Mayo said it wasn’t hypocritical to acknowledge the existence of such erotic activity – and even to advertise it to tourists – but refuse to have it in her own neighborhood.

“If this industry can afford to give us who live here a lower tax base, a good quality of life, good funding for our schools, then what goes on on that Strip is fine,” she said. “But we just have to do our best as a community to try to protect, keep it contained.”



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