How It Took a Global Pandemic To Close Nevada’s Brothels

COVID-19 is affecting all areas of the economy, including legal sex workers in Nevada.

There aren’t many people who will be celebrating the advent of a global pandemic but, for some people in Nevada, the current health crisis has achieved something that many believed was impossible. Despite several early attestations that they would remain open for business during the pandemic, brothels across Nevada have closed their doors. The decision is clearly one that is in line with the State Governor’s policy and is designed to protect staff and customers in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus. The result is a victory for those who would see prostitution banned in the state but what will this mean for the 200+ women who are employed at these brothels?

In this feature we take a look at the timeline that led to this historic situation and what this means for Nevada’s legalised sex industry.

Nevada’s Brothels; The ‘Non-Essential’ Service Closed For Business

As the global advance of COVID-19’s devastating effects takes hold in the United States, more and more businesses have deemed it necessary for its workforce to stay at home, to avoid spreading this disease.

Clearly, the sex workers in Nevada’s brothels don’t have the luxury of being able to work ‘remotely’ and the association was keen to avoid full scale closures of its member’s operations.

Yet, this unique service industry (along with many other sectors) were advised on Wednesday 18th March 2020 by Governor Sisolak that there place of business (brothels) were to be added to an ever-growing list of businesses that were deemed non-essential.

nevada brothels closed coronavirus desert rose

Brothels across Nevada are closed until further notice due to COVID-19. Image via Desert Rose.

The initial response from the state’s brothels was tentative with some venues announcing closure of its bar areas and cancellation of any events but confirming that they intended to continue sex servicing with a ‘skeleton crew’.  Suzette Cole, owner of the Bunny Ranch, Love Ranch, Kit Kat and Sagebrush brothels in Lyon County confirmed that her businesses would be “operating on a low-key basis”.

Cole and other brothel owners in Nevada had been quick to publicize their enhanced infection control efforts which included additional cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting. In addition, venues such as the Chicken Ranch in Pahrump were also employing staff screening procedures to assess the health of vendors, customers and staff.

As an industry, brothels know a little something about the importance of hygiene but, unfortunately, they have been unable to accommodate the only measures known to be effective in halting the spread of this virus….social distancing. In their line of work, staying six feet away from your guests just doesn’t cut it!

nevada brothels closed coronavirus

Sex and social distancing measures don’t go hand in hand. Image via Pixabay.

So, on Thursday 19th March 2020, the Nevada Brothel Association announced the immediate (and voluntary) closure of all its member businesses.

The impact on those sex workers who are employed at the various brothels will be just as keenly felt as in all industries that are furloughing their staff.

However, the ladies working for four Lyon County brothels haven’t let their unexpected downtime prevent them from assisting their local communities At the beginning of April, almost 100 workers from the popular Love Ranch, Kit Kat Ranch, Sagebrush Ranch and Bunny Ranch headed to the Dayton food pantry to donate a month’s supply of groceries including meat, veg, dairy and dried foods!

COVID-19 Closures: Where Legislation Failed…

The irony that an infection (and not an STI) has caused the wholesale closure of all of Nevada’s brothels is not lost on us here at Red Light Vegas and COVID-19 may well be the answer to the prayers of the lobbyists who have long campaigned for prostitution to be made illegal in the state.

Famous for its ‘untamed’ and liberal laws with gambling, prostitution and even marijuana being legal, Nevada is regarded by many as the last truly ‘freedom loving’ part of the United States.

A throw back of the Old West, the cathouse bordellos are a huge part of the state’s identity and, in unison with Las Vegas, are an important economic driver for the area.

nevada brothels closed coronavirus alien cathouse

The brothels of Nevada contribute millions of dollars in taxes but their doors will be closed until the threat of coronavirus has passed. Image via NeedPix.

Yet, prostitution will always draw controversy among the more conservative members of our society. Quietly tolerated by most locals, a group of (mainly) Christian traditionalists and anti-sex trafficking activists together launched a campaign in 2018 to try and end legalized sex work in Nevada for good.

The Citizens Against Brothels in Nye County, along with the No Little Girl group, have been campaigning and petitioning for a stop to prostitution. Though they were successful at getting a referendum together on the ballots for both Lyon County and Nye County, the groups failed to have their petitions passed.

Despite this setback, both groups (along with other campaigners) have continued pushing for changes to the current legislation with several proposed rules being tabled for consideration. One, known as the Lockdown Rule, was put forward by the Nye County Commission which would effectively have banned legal sex-workers from leaving a brothel for more than six hours without being subject to a sexual health test on their return to work.

There was existing legislation in place that put this time window at 24-hours meaning any courtesan who left a brothel for a day would need to be tested for STIs/HIV when she came back to the brothel.

With a great deal of objection from the Nevada Brothels Association, the revised 6-hour rule was not implemented and, in December 2019, the pre-existing lockdown rule in Nye County was also overturned! A win for the brothel owners and staff.

However, the arrival of the coronavirus in the United States seems (for the time being) to have succeeded where campaigning has failed and the brothels will be closed, their staff under a different kind of lockdown, for the foreseeable future.

When Will the Brothels Re-Open?

According to the Nevada Brothel Association press release, the cathouses of Nevada will remain closed in line with the state-wide policy of 30-days.

nevada brothels closed coronavirus donnas ranch

Donna’s Ranch website announces a temporary closure. Image via Donna’s Ranch.

This timescale will likely be reviewed in light of any developments of the impact the virus is having at that time but this means the only legal brothels in the United States will not re-open until 30th April at the earliest.

Most Nevada brothels have updated their websites to announce their closure and these will be further updated with news of when they will re-open. For ease of reference, we’ve listed all of Nevada’s legal brothels with links to their websites below:

Elko County

Lander County

Lyon County

Mineral County

Nye County

Storey County

White Pine County

The Future of Nevada’s Brothels

As with all industries where employees are being temporarily laid off (including the porn industry), the sex workers of Nevada now face an uncertain future. Most of the ladies who work in the cathouses are independent contractors and would not have benefited from state unemployment but the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act will mean that legal and registered brothel workers will be able to access some financial aid.

The systems and mechanisms for accessing funding are slowly being put into place to allow those workers affected by this crisis to receive Government support. Though a small proportion of some of these girl’s potential earnings, the money should be enough to allow most to ride out the short-term loss in earnings. However, some women are looking to continue working through the epidemic, not providing physical encounters but by offering virtual girlfriend experiences and shifting their focus to online ways to connect with their customers.

There are limits to how this kind of service can operate as contractually, the earnings of brothel workers must be transacted through the bordello itself but those who can have certainly been creative at ways to keep earning.

Live camming remains an option and there are some sex workers who already operate a channel on some of the big cam sites whilst others are considering this as a way to supplement  their incomes. You can find out more about those cam sites that are seeing an increase in traffic due to the global lockdown measures in our sister site’s recent feature ‘Cam Soda: There For You in Quarantine‘.

For the time being, however, many are just (like the rest of us) staying home, keeping their distance and riding out this storm to see what’s on the other side.

For more information about the status of the Nevada brothels and the plans to support its workers financially, see the Nevada Brothels Association website.

Featured image via Pexels.

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