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Should cover charges in Vegas be equitable for both sexes

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Beyond the Weekly
NERC

Before you roll your eyes and groan, hear Adam Russin out. He’s not trying to get any money, he’s not trying to draw any attention to himself, and he’s absolutely, positively not trying to ruin your good time.

He just has a simple question that seems to have only one logical answer. And very soon, odds are good the state will agree with him, and a lot of melon carts will be upset.

Russin’s question: How can anyone seriously believe it is not discriminatory to charge a man more than a woman for the same access or service?

This spring, the 25-year-old New Yorker was staying at the Mandalay Bay for a bachelor party and wanted to go with his chums to the Moorea Beach Club, the resort’s topless pool. He was startled to find out that the pool charges men $50 for admission and $10 to women, so he filed a complaint with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission (NERC) demanding the practice stop.

Oh, boo hoo, you say. Everybody knows that these pools and clubs charge men more and that bouncers admit fewer of them in order to maintain a balance that makes the place a favorable flirting circumstance for members of both sexes. If they don’t have established prices like Moorea, then they run promotional ladies’ nights where women get in free or at reduced prices. It’s a marketing tactic as old as rum and Coke. But it might also be against the law. And a cursory reading of the text would seem to support that view. In 2005, the Nevada Legislature amended its nondiscrimination clause for public accommodations to include “sex” along with the race, religion, sexual orientation and all the rest. Weird that it wasn’t already in there, but that’s beside the point.

By public accommodations, NRS 651.050 is so expansive that Moorea could be included under subset (j) as “any park, zoo, amusement park or other place of recreation,” subset (b) as “any restaurant, bar, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, casino or any other facility where food or spirituous or malt liquors are sold, including any such facility located on the premises of any retail establishment,” subset (m) as “any gymnasium, health spa, bowling alley, golf course or other place of exercise or recreation” or even, depending on the quality of the racks on display, subset (i) as “any museum, library, gallery or other place of public display or collection.”

Any way you slice it, Moorea is one, right? And if so, no matter how badly you want more exposed knockers at the pool, the law doesn’t allow you to engineer it through your prices, does it?

When I called to confirm Moorea’s prices as Russin had reported them, I also asked the woman why there was such a big difference for men and women. Her answer was no doubt akin to the justification for racial discrimination once upon a time: “If you go to any other pool, it’s gonna be like that, too.”

Everybody’s doing it? That’s an answer? Oh, and she’s wrong, too. Neither the Venus Pool at Caesars Palace nor Tao Beach at Venetian have gender-specific prices. The only pools that do are at MGM Mirage properties: Moorea, Wet Republic at MGM Grand and Bare at the Mirage.

It’s apparently a touchy topic. MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman stood by a comment he made in my New York Times piece from December on a similar complaint against the Las Vegas Athletic Club, in which he said he didn’t view it as a civil-rights matter.

“I don’t think these antidiscrimination laws had any intention of preventing something like this,” Feldman said at the time. “In the circumstance of, Tuesday night is ladies’ night, that is a business decision by individual businesses, and they ought to be left free to do that.”

A spokeswoman for Pure Management Group insisted there is no such price discrimination policy because cover charges change constantly, but I was told for a recent LA Times piece that their new Christian Audigier nightclub at Treasure Island charges $30 for men and $20 for women. Nobody asked for a correction. Folks at the Light Group, Pure’s rival, wouldn’t talk either, even though while they have gender-specific prices for Bare, they don’t seem to have them for any of their nightclubs.

That proves that the sky doesn’t fall if clubs and pools can’t do this. In fact, the California Supreme Court ruled such price disparities illegal all the way back in 1985. Judges or civil rights panels in New Jersey, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Iowa and New York have also barred such practices. State courts in Illinois and Washington, though, allowed price differences as an acceptable means of drawing desired customers.

The NERC can’t comment on the case by law, but Russin faxed me documentation indicating his complaint is proceeding. He said he was told to expect a conference call with the MGM Mirage folks this summer. While it’s unclear what’s happened in that aforementioned 10-month-old case against LVAC, the Moorea one appears to be moving along at a steady clip.

Russin is prepared for the scorn to be heaped upon him for speaking to me and because his case has the potential to radically change the way Vegas clubs and pools do business. And yeah, it is a bit of a cause with him; he filed a complaint in New York that led a nightclub there that openly chose to allow more women than men in from its rope line to post a sign disavowing such a practice. Some of his friends have even scolded him as a killjoy, asking him—his words—“What do you want, to go to a sausage-fest all the time?”

It’s enough for Russin to feel the need to reassert his heterosexuality. “I love women, maybe a little too much sometimes,” Russin says. “I just want everything to be equal. I’m white and Jewish and I want to be treated the same as if I were an African-American woman or a Christian. I don’t believe Mandalay Bay is doing this maliciously because they hate men. They’re doing this to drive traffic to their pool. But that doesn’t make it right.”

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