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The Intersection

[Spotlight] Five reasons it sucks to own a massage parlor right now

Remember when everybody just ignored them?

Joshua Longobardy

It’s been a rough season for the 67 massage establishments (not affiliated with resorts) in Clark County. Cops and politicians, suspecting prostitution, are all over their collective case—with the outcome yet to be determined. Here, a summary of their recent woes:

1. Police pressure

Massage-parlor owners in town call it an intimidation tactic, Metro says it’s nothing more than good undercover police work, but what’s unequivocal is that law enforcement in Las Vegas has been, in the past six months, cracking down on illicit operations occurring within the city’s massage parlors. Police raids, in hunt of prostitutes—with guns drawn, and parlor surveillance cameras turned away—have several parlor owners crying foul. The latest sting took place two weeks ago at Miyako, a Chinese massage establishment, merely hours after a group of parlor owners met there to discuss how they will politically resist a proposed Clark County ordinance that would restrict their businesses’ hours of operation.

2. City Council disdain

In the September 19 City Council meeting, Tranquility Spa, a massage parlor on Paradise Road that had been caught housing acts of prostitution in an undercover Metro sting earlier this year, lost its business license for good before council members. Gary Reese, in whose Ward 3 the parlor had been operating prior to the sting, put the parlor’s hopes of license renewal to death with one mordant line: “I can’t see this going on in my ward—and I won’t!”

3. Clark County’s agenda

One-third of the county’s 67 massage establishments operates around the clock. The Clark County Commission, this December, will vote on an ordinance that would mandate every new licensed parlor to close its doors to the public at 10 p.m., and not reopen them until 6 a.m.—a popular time of business for many Las Vegas massage parlors. The proposed ordinance arises from the fear of widespread prostitution in these establishments, and it would apply to, in essence, all of the independently owned parlors outside the hotel-and-casino industry. County commissioners were set to vote on the ordinance on October 3, but, due to opposition from a group of parlor owners, pushed the next hearing on the matter back to December 5.

4. Federal scrutiny

The Department of Justice suspects there is a human-trafficking problem in Las Vegas. To be more specific, the criminal investigation and enforcement agency believes massage parlors in the city are housing indentured servants. Proof: The DOJ, in late 2006, conferred upon Metro a grant of $370,000 to crack down on the problem.

5. Bad PR

The first four reasons listed here have created a publicity nightmare for privately owned massage parlors. The inculpable ones suffer most, says a lawyer representing several massage establishments that have teamed together to form the United Massage Business Association. Attorney Allen Lichtenstein says that the establishments he represents have been tainted with a broad brush reserved for unscrupulous establishments. And that, of course, has hurt their businesses. “In recent years we’ve had a number of county commissioners who’ve done illegal things,” says Lichtenstein, “but no one should suggest that all county commissioners are corrupt. The same goes for massage parlors.”

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