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Wyoming kid turns into brothel industry’s chief lobbyist

George Flint grew up in Lusk, Wyoming. He was familiar with the Yellow Hotel there, where, among others, Bobbie Duncan, owner of the Buckeye Bar near Tonopah, received training under the famous madam Dell Burke in operating a brothel.

Flint was in his late 20s and living in Nevada when he got into the wedding chapel business. In addition to the wedding chapel he now owns in Reno, he has previously owned wedding chapels in Elko and Las Vegas.

At one time, he owned the well-known Chapel of the Bells in Las Vegas, located on South Las Vegas Boulevard. Over the past 50 years, he estimates he has performed more than 100,000 marriage ceremonies.

Flint became a lobbyist in 1962, representing osteopathic physicians, opticians, and wedding chapels to Nevada state legislators.

Since 1985, Flint has also been the moving force behind the Nevada Brothel Association. I interviewed him in 2011.

Brothel Operators

Prior to 1985, the brothel operators in Nevada had never had a lobbyist, someone who could speak for the diverse groups’ interests before the lawmakers in Nevada. Typically, when prostitution-related issues came up, brothel operators were never able to speak with one voice.

They had been, Flint suggests, like many other businesses owners who were too independent to communicate a unified message. With brothel owners, it was left to a few high-profile individuals to contact legislators and make the case for the industry. It was difficult to work for the common good.

Brothel operator Joe Conforte was one owner who made an effort to influence legislators. Conforte, Flint said, “spread a lot of good will around in the form of greenbacks to the legislators.” In that sense, he was working for the common good of brothel owners, but only as an individual. Conforte was big enough that he could afford to do so, Flint said.

When Mike O’Callaghan ran for governor, Conforte donated $40,000 to his campaign. When Harry Reid, now a powerful United States senator, was running for lieutenant governor, Conforte gave him $20,000.

“Joe was always very, very open to help anybody. And as a result, few bothered him very much,” Flint said. Conforte, according to Flint, was then funneling money to legislators through a second party.

Nevada Prostitution Represented

During the 1985 legislative session, Flint received a call from a phone message center asking him to get in touch with a certain individual. Flint recognized the person’s name; he had been best man at Flint’s second wedding. Moreover, he had recently purchased the Kit-Kat Ranch, a brothel located about 10 miles from Carson City. Flint returned the phone call and was asked to come out to the “ranch.”

At the meeting a couple of hours later, the individual said, “We’ve got to, as an industry, work together and form some kind of association.” Flint asked, “Why?” The man said, “Well, you know, this new disease, AIDS or HIV? Rock Hudson just died of it. That alone could be the end of brothels in Nevada.” He added, “We need somebody with some background and some reputation and credibility to represent us.” (Flint, it should be noted, has been representing interest groups as a lobbyist in Carson City for more than 50 years, longer than anybody in Nevada history. “I’m Grandpa Lobbyist down there,” he said.)

Flint replied, “Well, I have two things to say. Number one, you’ll have to have Joe Conforte in because without Joe’s power and his stalwartness financially in the industry, it’s not going to go anywhere. Second, I’ve got to have a certain amount of blessing from the legislature if we’re going to actually have a registered whorehouse lobby.”

Flint said he told the man he would get back with him.

After some discussion with interested persons, Flint said to himself, “To hell with it. I’m going to register and I’m going to represent them.”

Having made his decision, Flint began calling brothels owners throughout Nevada, including Russ Reid, part owner of the Chicken Ranch in Pahrump, and Joe Richards, an Amargosa Valley brothel owner.

“We put together a pretty good little group,” Flint recalled. Over the years, he said, they’ve had to fight battles having to do with outlawing prostitution in Nevada, several tax bills, and “a couple of bills related to punitive testing regimens on the girls that would have been asinine.”

In our 2011 interview, Flint said, “I think today the brothels are probably in better shape at the legislature than they’ve ever been in. Whether or not they can hold onto it, that I don’t know.”

For his first couple of sessions of the state legislature as a brothel lobbyist, Flint said, many of his friends acted a bit like he had leprosy. But by the third session, he was respected by all. He thinks one of the things that made a difference was that he didn’t flaunt the women at the lawmakers.

He didn’t bring them down to the legislature and parade them around.

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