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Vegas Lap Dances: No Funny Stuff

CARSON CITY — At the very least, you’ll have to get your Las Vegas lap dances without any fondling or caressing.

That’s the result of a Nevada Supreme Court decision handed down Thursday that imposes conditions on that staple of strip club activity.

The two sides in the case have differing views of the decision’s effect.

A lawyer for exotic dancers and a civil libertarian said the ruling essentially makes lap dances illegal in Las Vegas.

Not so, city of Las Vegas officials said as they gave the green light for grinding inside city limits.

In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the Las Vegas ordinance that prohibits exotic dancers from fondling or caressing patrons with the intent to sexually arouse. It prevents customers from doing the same to dancers.

In the decision, Justice Nancy Becker said the city ordinance was intended to prohibit lap dancing.

Fourteen dancers had been given misdemeanor citations by Las Vegas police for violating the ordinance. The acts included rubbing breasts against patrons’ faces and grinding buttocks into patrons’ groins, according to the ruling.

The strippers challenged the city’s ordinance, and a District Court judge found the law to be unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.

Thursday’s ruling, though, said that patrons and dancers are clearly aware of the meaning of terms like “fondle” and “caress” and that such conduct is prohibited in Las Vegas strip clubs.

“The public hearings surrounding the enactment (of the city ordinance) make clear that the ordinance was intended to prevent conduct such as lap dances and other sexually explicit touching,” Becker wrote in the majority opinion.

But City Attorney Brad Jerbic said lap dances are still legal. “The ordinance never banned lap dancing, and the decision by the Supreme Court doesn’t ban lap dancing,” he said. He said dancers and patrons would be breaking the law if they were fondling or caressing.

It would be tough for most dancers to make a living without lap dances, said the women at Glitter Gulch on the Fremont Street Experience.

A dancer who identified herself only as Chrissy said lap dances make up 75 percent of her income. She admitted some touching goes on — “It’s for your balance, mostly” — and said it would be tough to convince men to cough up $35 for a private room dance if their was a separation.

“Who would want to pay for something that you could see on the stage show?” she said, motioning to a gyrating colleague working a pole.

Her friend, who would not give her name, said that before she came to Las Vegas three years ago, she worked in Oregon. That state did not allow dancers to touch patrons but did allow them to be fully nude and allowed` the establishments to serve alcohol, she said. In most cases in the Las Vegas Valley, only topless clubs can serve alcohol.

“This is considered Sin City, and if Oregon is more sinful than we are, that’s weird,” she said.

The city had considered instituting a “no-touch” rule but decided in favor of a more permissive ordinance.

Jonathan Powell, one of the lawyers who represented strippers who challenged the ordinance, said the logical conclusion of the decision is that lap dancing is now prohibited in Las Vegas.

Powell said the dancers, including one named Fanny Li and one named Michelle Admire, are considering their options, such as asking for a rehearing or taking the case to the federal court.

The ordinance does not give police, patrons and dancers enough guidance about what type of conduct is prohibited in strip clubs, he said.

“In these cases, the patron can be just as liable as the dancer,” he said. “But the patron is never charged. We do not think that is fair.”

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said that if he had a client who was a stripper, he would advise her that lap dancing is illegal in city limits.

“Very clearly, this ruling says the ordinance is designed to prohibit lap dancing. It says lap dancing is illegal in this law, and this law is constitutional,” Lichtenstein said. Neither he nor the ACLU was involved in this case.

He added that he believed the city’s law is unconstitutional. “The fact that we’re even having this discussion indicates that this really is vague,” he said.

The ruling would have no impact on Clark County’s ordinance, which, unlike the city ordinance, goes into sometimes graphic detail about what erotic dancers are or are not allowed to do.

For example, it says that dancers “may allow their clothed anus, pubic region and genitals to make contact with a patron’s leg(s), excluding the patron’s feet.”

In its ruling Thursday, the court threw out a January 2005 decision by District Judge Sally Loehrer, who ruled that the city ordinance was unconstitutional because it was vague and overbroad. Loehrer contended that the ordinance was not clear enough for police “to know what is allowable and what is not.”

Becker noted the ordinance provides an “adequate standard” for police in determining if the law is being violated.

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