Lyon County Commission okays advisory question on brothels

Published: May. 16, 2018 at 7:09 PM PDT
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The Lyon County Commission has voted to ask county staff to draw up proposed language for an advisory question asking voters whether they approve of legalized brothels in their county. If the commission approves the language, the question will go on November's ballot, giving the commission a direction when deciding whether prostitution will stay legal. The next meeting is set for June 7.

The move decided at a commission meeting May 17, 2018 means the group gathering signatures for a referendum vote to ban brothels will stop doing so.

Discussion at the meeting indicated a referendum vote may have been confusing, since a yes vote for the referendum would have been anti-brothel, and a no vote would mean yes for brothels.


They've been part of the rural Nevada landscape since the days of the Comstock, legal brothels operating in the open, existing in a legal gray area much of that time in a number of small communities.

In the 1970s, many counties decided to legalize an existing profession and tax it, while state law was engineered to keep it illegal in the state's major population centers. The public has rarely been asked to approve or disapprove. This November, it seems Lyon County voters will be asked for the first time.

A coalition of anti-prostitution groups has been circulating a petition to put it on the ballot in Lyon and Nye counties. Voters would be asked to close Lyon County's legal brothels--all located in Mound House, all owned by Dennis Hof.

The choice pits Nevada's historically libertarian view of the subject against the values of a changing world in a time of the "#MeToo" and "#Times Up" movements.

"Small government, low taxes. Don't bother me with the social issues," says Hof. "I don't care about that. I think most Nevadans are like that. We're more what I call conservatarians than anything."

Reno attorney Jason Guinasso is the spokesman for what's called the 'No Little Girl' campaign. He says it's not so much about morality, but accountability.

"Mr.Hof, you've been in this business for quite some time and you have not been accountable for the harm that your industry has caused scores of women, hundreds of women."

There are arguments from both sides on economics.

Hof's brothels, he says, bring $10 million into the county economy each year. Guinasso would argue that hardly accounts for the human cost or potential impact on economic development.

But Hof, fed up he says with high taxes and big government, is running for the state Assembly from a southern Nevada district. The anti-brothel campaign, he says, is an attempt by the establishment to keep him out of the legislature.

"I'm a rebel. I'm the guy that's going to fight with them. We're not going to raise taxes. We're going to repeal the Commerce tax that these RINOs (Republicans in name only) put through. I'm not a part of the team."

"He's not our target," insists Guinasso. "Our target is really the industry and the harm that it's been doing to women, but he's really helped us put a face on the problem and that's a circumstance of his making, not ours."

The referendum petition is still short of the needed signatures, but organizers have four more weeks to gather them.

It may not be necessary. The county commission meets Thursday to decide on its own ballot question. This one would be advisory only. Final decisions would be up to the commissioners.

Either way there will be months of debate on this contentious issue ahead.