Navigating COVID-19 safety protocols at a business built on intimacy and physical contact was tricky for Nye County’s brothels. But since the state mask mandate was lifted on Feb. 10, workers in the county’s legal sex industry say it’s been back to business as usual.
“Everyone is happy we’re back open,” said Will Paccione, the chief operations manager at the Chicken Ranch, a 17-bed brothel at the edge of town in south Pahrump. “The pandemic was a tough time for all.”
Nevada brothels — along with all other non-essential businesses — shuttered their doors for 14 months during the pandemic. But in May 2021, those doors reopened with certain restrictions and guidelines.
“There was a big demand when we opened and again when the mask mandate was lifted,” Paccione said.
Nevada’s legal brothels are as important to the state’s tourism economy as gambling, according to Paccione.
In a typical year, legal brothels generate about $50 million in total revenue and have an economic impact of about $400 million on the state. They’re also a destination for travelers from around the world.
“People make specific trips just to come to the World Famous Historic Chicken Ranch Brothel. Right on our sign, it says “Where the West is Still Wild!”
About 1,000 feet away from the Chicken Ranch, the courtesans at Sheri’s Ranch — a resort-style hotel that includes seven standard rooms and three themed suites — have also been busy since the establishment reopened.
“We were slammed from day one,” Madam Dena of Sheri’s Ranch, said. “I couldn’t believe how many came out.”
When the brothels initially reopened at half-capacity in May 2021, customers had their temperatures taken upon entering and masks were required in all common areas. Courtesans also had temperatures checked and logged each morning and wore masks with customers if requested. Wellness of brothel workers has been highly regulated since 1937, when a law was enacted requiring weekly health checks for sex workers.
Dena said the stricter measures didn’t cause any major problems while they were in place.
“People are very cognizant of how they’re feeling,” she said. “Customers would reschedule appointments if they weren’t feeling well. A lot of people were vaccinated and wore masks.”
Almost a year after reopening, Sheri’s Ranch is still seeing an increase in client visits, even compared to pre-pandemic numbers.
“People are more appreciative of things they haven’t done,” Dena said. “Going to a brothel is a part of that.”
Dena also credits Pahrump with the brothels’ success after reopening.
“Pahrump is a strong, caring community,” she said. “The industry struggled while we were closed, but people have been really supportive. It feels good to know we’re wanted.”
Jenna Mae, a courtesan at the Chicken Ranch, said COVID protocols haven’t killed the mood between her and her clients.
“It wasn’t hard to connect with customers through the masks,” Mae said. “We’ve gotten used to the new reality.”
For Mae and other women at the Chicken Ranch, what they do isn’t just sex — it’s an intimate human connection.
“People come in with no self-confidence or don’t know how to talk to girls, and we help them,” Mae said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Clients seem to be in search of something special after months of lockdowns, travel restrictions and closures.
“People crave intimacy and the experience of a brothel,” Mae said. “COVID hasn’t impacted that.”
One popular option for customers returning to the Chicken Ranch is the Girlfriend Experience, which isn’t exclusively about sex.
“A guy might last one minute and then spend the next 59 minutes watching a movie,” Paccione said. “Some people just need someone to talk to or hang out with.”
Since Nevada dropped its statewide mask mandate in February, Nye County brothels no longer require customers to mask up or undergo temperature checks when visiting the establishments. Sheri’s Ranch only requests temperature checks if customers are coughing or appear to be ill.
However, COVID precautions are still in place for brothel workers, including heightened sanitation procedures. Both customers and courtesans continue to have the option to wear masks.
Staff at the Chicken Ranch are still required to undergo daily temperature checks and courtesans have access to self-administered COVID tests. If a worker tests positive, they’re expected to return home and quarantine, rather than finish out their stay.
With the continued precautions and tourism returning to Las Vegas, Nye County brothels expect their businesses to continue flourishing.
“Unlike the casinos, everyone leaves a winner here,” Paccione said.