[Civil liberties]

Risky business

Attorney Allen Lichtenstein discusses the gray area involved in licensing sex clubs

Allen Lichtenstein, private attorney and general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.
Photo: Beverly Poppe

In both his private practice and as general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, attorney Allen Lichtenstein has been fighting for the rights of adult businesses in Sin City.

You would think his job would involve as little work as the old Maytag repairman. But Las Vegas can be a thick regulatory environment for those wishing to purvey any sort of adult content, and in recent weeks two businesses that had been Lichtenstein’s clients—Libertine, a dungeon aiming to please the fetish community, and Sextacy, a swingers club which Lichtenstein represented under an earlier moniker—have been shuttered by authorities. Weekly sat down with Lichtenstein to discuss the closure of those establishments, as well as the fine line the county has to toe in dealing with adult businesses.

Inside the Libertine (Warning! Adult content not suitable for minors)

Is Las Vegas cracking down on adult lifestyle clubs?


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No. You have two places that were applying for licenses. Each had issues regarding its license.

But these were both places that were known for being spots where sexual behavior was taking place.

Did sex take place there? Yes. Sex took place there as well as many other places that aren’t classified as sex clubs. But I think it is important for you to understand that neither of these places was denied a license for being a sex club. There has been a lot of misleading discussion about this in the media. The only place the word “sex club” appears is in the Clark County zoning code, and the definition of “sex club” is a problematic definition, as it could include hotels up and down the Strip, since sex takes place there, too. And, in the zoning code there is a grandfather clause.

So, with classifying it as a sex club, Green Door (another client) would be grandfathered?

It certainly would be. The Green Door has been around for 10 years. County people have been in there numerous times. There is nothing secret about what is going on there. The Green Door is licensed. But the zoning thing is irrelevant; it postdated Green Door’s opening.

Do you think sex clubs are legal?

The fact is people are going to have sex regardless of what the county commission says. These places exist. They have very little problems. To try and outlaw them ... all that would do is to force them back into the community in the form of house parties. If the county wanted to deal seriously with the question they would help create reasonable regulation that would make sure places did not affect other people and are required to meet health and safety requirements.

But on the broader issue, do you think the county has a right to ban sex clubs? Can they write a specific enough ordinance that would make a place like Green Door illegal?

I am not sure they do [have the right]. They would face some significant constitutional issues. There are certain rights to privacy, for example. People go and use a facility. They are not paying anybody for sex. They go and engage in personal behavior. There is a serious question if the county has the jurisdiction to regulate people having sex when they are not in public. Clearly, the ordinance the county has now has some constitutional and logic problems, but I think a better-written ordinance would still have constitutional problems. Instead of a lengthy legal fight, if the county is concerned they ought to work with the industry to deal with problems.


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