Is Nye County fed up with brothels? Voters may get to decide on industry’s future

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Chris Carlson / AP

A sign advertises the Love Ranch brothel, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, in the Nye County community of Crystal, about 80 miles from Las Vegas.

Wed, Mar 21, 2018 (2 a.m.)

After some contentious months of managing legalized prostitution in Nye County, one commissioner is mulling the possibility of putting a question on the ballot this year for voters to determine the industry’s fate.

The question, as suggested by Commissioner Lorinda Wichman: Does Nye County want to continue allowing legalized prostitution?

The commission last year updated protocols for how brothels operate by increasing license fees for owners and their legal prostitutes, and authorizing a study — per Wichman’s wishes — to calculate if the industry is beneficial for taxpayers.

Additionally, a few hearings targeted violations made by Dennis Hof-owned establishments. Hof responded with multiple lawsuits against the county, which influenced Wichman’s suggestion to analyze the benefits of allowing brothels.

“Staff is looking into what it is costing the taxpayer to have legalized prostitution in Nye County,” Wichman said. “I asked them to compare what it is costing us to what we receive. My curiosity is to whether or not taxpayers of Nye County are subsidizing the brothel industry.”

Prostitution is legal in 16 Nevada counties, with Nye, Mineral, Lyon, Lander, White Pine, Elko, Humboldt and Storey counties having at least one active brothel. Esmeralda, Eureka, Pershing and Churchill counties can have brothels but don't have active establishments.

Nye County collected $85,000 in brothel license fees and another $56,779.25 in brothel work card fees for the fiscal year 2017, according to county figures.

Wichman didn’t have a timeline on when the report would be complete, but said it would be finished before to be included in the November general election.

The ordinance in question is Nye County Code 9.20, which allows for prostitution in brothels that are licensed and controlled to better protect the public health, safety, morals, good order and welfare of the inhabitants of the county, it reads.

All possible county ballot questions must first be brought up to the board of commissioners to consider before being presented to the voters, where they can pass it without voters’ approval, according to the Office of the Nevada Secretary of State. If the board fails to pass it, then the issue can be put on a ballot in the general election for voters to decide.

There have been no specific complaints made by Nye County residents specifically stating they do not wish to have legalized prostitution in the county, Wichman said.

Despite heated moments with Hof in past meetings and Hof accusing Wichman of targeting him, she maintains there is no personal vendetta with the famed brothel owner involved with her request.

“No, absolutely none on my end, at least,” she said. “I like to look out for the taxpayer.”

Hof, who last week had a three-week suspension for unapproved building modifications lifted on his Love Ranch South brothel, claims Wichman is further attacking him. Hof owns two of Nye County’s four brothels.

Hof, who is seeking the Republican nomination for Assembly District 36, maintains the closure of Love Ranch and the possible push to eliminate prostitution in Nye County is politically motivated.

“You haven’t done enough damage to my business and reputations, know you want to take out all the brothels,” Hof questioned. “She didn’t get what she wanted in keeping me closed … now she is trying to get rid of the whole industry.”

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