By Mark Waite
TONOPAH — Shady Lady Ranch owner Bobbi Davis painted a rag tag picture of prostitutes showing up at her remote brothel with only a few dollars, after paying for plane fare, then transportation. The brothel often functions as a bank helping the working girls pay off their bills.
It’s a far cry from tales of prostitutes earning lucrative money to buy condos and fancy cars at more upscale places like Sheri’s Ranch.
Her testimony Tuesday convinced Nye County Commission Chairman Lorinda Wichman to amend a bill mandating annual licensing of prostitutes as a way to ease the burden on the sheriff’s department, in favor of a new fee structure that would encourage them to renew annually.
Emery Lesco, general manager of Dennis Hof’s Love Ranch Cathouse, liked the annual licensing.
“What we notice is they’re inundated on the first day of the quarter. Every time we go in there, there’s a line and there’s a big wait and there’s a lot of resources in the sheriff’s office that could be utilized in different ways,” Lesco said.
But Bobbi Davis, owner of The Shady Lady Ranch about 20 miles north of Beatty, said requiring incoming prostitutes to pay annual licensing fees would impact her business.
“There are girls that come to our house that have three dollars in their pocket, so the houses usually have to, not just my house, but a lot of houses, have to fork the money out. If they have four or five girls that do that to them, that adds up. “Right now this would just create enough of a financial strain on myself that I would close,” Davis said.
Wichman amended her ordinance to allow prostitutes to keep paying $125 per quarter in licensing fees, but give them an incentive to pay semi-annually with a $225 fee or $425 annually, saving $75 on the annual license payments.
Applicants for brothel cards are photographed, fingerprinted and undergo a background check.
Lesco suggested allowing the brothels to renew the licenses by phone, instead of requiring prostitutes to appear in person at the sheriff’s office. He said if any working girls had outstanding warrants during their renewals the brothel could bring them in.
But Commissioner Joni Eastley was opposed.
“There have been plenty of times where the worker will come in and apply for a renewal of their work card and they have outstanding warrants and if you have outstanding warrants you can’t work in the house,” Eastley said.
Davis said the Federal Bureau of Investigation visited her brothel once when a prostitute was issued an absentee ballot but moved — the ballot was later filled out by someone else.
“The girls need to come in, the sheriff needs to see if that is the girl that they’re licensing,” she said.
The licensing also affects the doctor’s examinations, Davis said.
Lesco also suggested allowing the quarter to begin on the date a woman began working in the brothel, instead of from the start of each quarter on the calendar.
Eastley said according to sheriff’s office figures 786 work cards were issued over a one-year period in Pahrump, 202 in Beatty and 46 in Tonopah, for a grand total of 1,106. Each one takes 15 to 20 minutes to process, she said.
“For the entire year, for all three offices, that only reflects 369 hours. So it wasn’t as much as I thought it would be,” Eastley said.
Of the 768 work cards issued in Pahrump in one year, 397 went to prostitutes, 246 to other brothel workers and 126 to all others. Prostitutes took out 119 of the 202 work cards issued in Beatty, other brothel workers accounted for another 49 of them.
The work cards are a lucrative revenue source. An October report to commissioners, for example, listed prostitute fees paid in Pahrump just in the month of July, totaled $8,625, while $1,125 was collected in Beatty and $1,500 in Tonopah. Nye County collected $46,625 that month between the prostitute licensing fees, the brothel licensing fees and other brothel employee fees.
District Attorney Brian Kunzi suggested approving the amendments, but not setting an effective date for the ordinance, so he could bring back a clean copy of a bill at the next meeting with all the changes.
The ordinance also eliminates a six-month Nevada residency requirement for a brothel owner applying for a license, that was struck down as unconstitutional in a case filed by Western Best Ltd., after commissioners used that as one of the reasons to deny the sale of the Chicken Ranch brothel in 2007. Commissioners settled the case a year ago, paying $87,500.
In November 2011, county commissioners doubled the quarterly licensing fee for prostitutes from $62.50 to $125 based on a suggestion from the industry itself, from George Flint, representing the Nevada Brothel Association. The extra fees go to the Nye County Veterans Service Office.
Commissioner Dan Schinhofen said he’d like to broaden the changes to include the process of issuing work cards for bartenders. Eastley said a variety of workers need work cards, like day care workers.
People who want to start work as a waitress or bartender for example, would have to pay off any outstanding traffic warrants first to qualify for a work card.
“If you’re bartending, you’re bartending. I’d like staff to give me some kind of a primer on that, to see if there’s a better way of doing that,” Schinhofen said.