When Dean Dupalo saw mobile billboards featuring half-naked girls in his east Las Vegas neighborhood, he felt a line had been crossed. “I could understand them traveling up and down the back streets, but certainly not roaming around residential areas,” he says. “We’ve got tons of kids in this neighborhood. You shouldn’t go through residential neighborhoods advertising adult services.”
So Dupalo, a political science professor at UNLV, tried calling the number on the truck to ask that the driver not advertise in residential areas, but got an answering service.
“It lasted for several weeks. It was going through our neighborhood and our Walmart parking lot, just cruising, advertising ‘Hot Latinas’—scantily clad. They were advertising pornography in front of my house.”
He began snapping photos of the mobile billboard to show to the city council, and finally, he called Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese to see whether there were any ordinances against this sort of thing.
“Reese said it was unacceptable,” Dupalo says, “but difficult to regulate.”
Indeed. The fine line between the atmosphere that makes the Strip the beacon of lucrative debauchery that it is and the Midwestern-imitating neighborhoods in suburban Vegas has always been challenging to navigate. Several years ago, a group of morally offended locals went after the Hard Rock to clean up its sexual billboards, saying the content was inappropriate off the Strip. The Hard Rock was initially fined $400,000 for what the Gaming Control Board considered violations of “decency, dignity, good taste, honesty and inoffensiveness” in their ads, but the Gaming Commission later dismissed the charges, citing the First Amendment.
“I find it very troubling,” Dupalo says. Still, it’s a bugaboo in a one-industry city built on love of vice.
And Dupalo grew up in Vegas—so he knows the way it works: prostitution is illegal but prevalent, the kind of thing we are fine benefitting from so long as we can deny it in our daily lives; i.e., keep the giant escort ads on the Strip. Ditto the sexual content of club advertising. But, he says, as the economy has worsened, businesses that once catered to tourists have turned their attention to locals—and violated the “tacit agreement that they keep it on the Strip—over there.
“Things changed, and they’re looking at locals as a revenue base. Things opened up, and now they’re purposely advertising in the locals area.”
So he’s pushing to make that agreement less tacit and more enunciated. He met with City Attorney Brad Jerbic, and they drafted a measure that is scheduled to be heard by the council this week. But it falls short of Dupalo’s expectations. The proposed measure regulates movement, but not content:
“It is unlawful for a person to stand, park or store a mobile billboard upon any street at a location within five hundred feet of a single-family dwelling. For purposes of this [section], ‘mobile billboard’ means one or more sign structures that are mounted on a vehicle or trailer and are used for general advertising or advertising for hire. ...”
Dupalo says, “It says parking, but what about moving? And they can roll those ads up, and they should ... I want it to say that it’s not acceptable advertising in the neighborhoods ...”
So, he says, he’ll support this measure as a stepping stone but not a final solution.
“If it has to be a constitutional fight, that’s fine. I will dive on this sword and say, ‘Not in my neighborhood.’”