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November 15, 1999 12:00pm
Policing the sex industry: City to weigh background checks for club owners
by: Diana Sahagun

Would-be adult club owners and outcall operators in North Las Vegas may have to undergo background checks and follow strict new guidelines.

The North Las Vegas City Council will consider two ordinances 7 p.m. Wednesday that will put new
regulations on the sex industry, following the lead of Henderson and other local governments.

If the adult club ordinance becomes law, applicants would have to consent to police department and business license checks that would examine their financial background, employment history and criminal records.

They would be referred to the chief of police for fingerprinting and photographs, and be required to submit a list of convictions including incest, lewdness and indecent exposure.

The proposed ordinance also would ban alcohol where there are totally nude shows, as is already done in the county, and it would change licensing fees from a fixed charge every six months to 1 percent of gross earnings monthly.

Currently, interested adult club owners in North Las Vegas are required only to obtain a standard business license, just as they would for a retail store. No background checks are required.

The city regulates only where adult clubs can be located -- in industrial zones.

Outcall operators would have to get a special license and have an established place of business. The proposed ordinance would require applicants to detail the methods of operation, hours of business and the methods of supervision.

As with the adult clubs, background and police checks would be required, and those who have convictions of pandering, sale or distribution of a controlled substance or embezzlement could be denied licenses.

In addition, outcall employees would need a physician's certificate saying they are free from communicable diseases.

The license fee for an outcall entertainment business is 1 percent of gross revenues.

The council is scheduled to take a final vote on both ordinances Dec. 1.

City officials decided to propose the new adult club rules after the city receive inquiries from businesses interested in opening sexually oriented establishments, one an adult cabaret, Acting City Attorney Mark Zalaoras said. Zalaoras would not say who made the inquiries.

"We simply have not had regulation on sexually oriented businesses, and we need to get regulated," he said. The adult club ordinance would be similar to one passed in Henderson in 1993.

Representatives from the ACLU say if passed, the new ordinance won't stand up in court.

Allen Lichtenstein, a Las Vegas attorney who also works for the American Civil Liberties Union, says the depth of the background check is intrusive.

"The courts have said it is unconstitutional" to require that kind of background check, Lichtenstein said. "You have a right to these businesses, and it is an invasion of privacy to have a 'right' contingent upon the government checking your background. That type of intrusive scheme can not exist."

In addition, he said, an increase in fees has to be justified.

"The courts have said that fees for licensing can only be limited to the need to cover expenses," he said. "It can't be used to discourage these businesses."

Two legal sexually oriented businesses operate in North Las Vegas, Zalaoras said. The Palomino Club on 1848 Las Vegas Blvd. North has totally nude shows, and Satin Saddle on 1818 Las Vegas Blvd. North has topless shows. Both have existing licenses to serve alcohol and have nude or semi-nude shows.

A third club, Lacy's Lounge, is attached to the Palomino Club. All three are owned by Gail Perry and family.

Zalaoras said the two strip joints will most likely be grandfathered in once an ordinance is passed. In time the permission might be phased out, he added. The ordinance says that after 20 years all nonconforming establishments must be changed to a conforming use.

Zalaoras says the ordinance will allow sexually oriented businesses to get licensed as long as they follow the guidelines.

"This ordinance is being drafted so we can ensure the businesses are legitimate and to bring the city in line with other entities in the Las Vegas Valley," he said. "The ordinance will provide us with the guidelines to protect health and human welfare."

It might also limit the number of adult entertainment businesses that come to North Las Vegas.

Since Henderson passed its regulations on sexually oriented businesses, no one has applied to open a strip club, David Lee, administrator for business licenses in Henderson, said.

"Once they find out they have to adhere to all these provisions, they don't come back," he said. "We've seen absolutely no activity."

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