Strip casinos eyeing gentlemen’s clubs

May 22, 2001 10:26 AM
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Topless entertainment may be taking on a new twist on the Strip. And it’s not your daddy’s Follies Bergere.

Several major casinos are meeting with an out-of-state strip club operator about hosting topless bars at their properties, sources tell GamingToday. Identities are being kept tightly under wraps, but Las Vegas attorney Dominic Gentile says, "There’s no doubt they’re looking at putting in gentlemen’s clubs."

Rumors are already swirling that Caesars Palace and the MGM Grand have lined up racy topless shows. Harrah’s recently jumped in with a late-night show called "Skintight."

But so far none of these entries measures up to a strip club, where topless performers get up close and personal, performing lap dances off stage and accepting tips.

The MGM speculation was sparked when the resort recently booked the "Crazy Horse Revue." Though it shares its name with two local strip bars, the French import is actually a conventional topless dance show.

On June 3, Caesars will open its Shadow Lounge, which the hotel bills as a "provocative and sensual experience." But public relations director Michael Caldwell says there will be no topless dancing there.

Still, with big bucks flowing at topless joints along Industrial and Paradise roads, casino moguls are looking to get in on the action.

"I’d be surprised if it doesn’t happen," Gentile says. "There’s no reason not to have an adult cabaret in a casino that, by definition, appeals to adults."

The topless option appears to be open as Clark County exempts the resort corridor from customary zoning restrictions and nothing in the state’s gaming regulations specifically prevents it.

Casinos have been reluctant, however, noting strip lounges’ dicey reputation. Bobby Siller, a former FBI agent who now sits on the state Gaming Control Board, calls topless bars "a feeder system for prostitution." Regulators and gamers alike worry that enforcement could be a nightmare.

"I don’t think the gaming board would go for it," says one industry observer who requested anonymity. "There’s a fear that this would go over the line and invoke the ‘disrepute clause,’" says another.

Gentile acknowledges the logistical problems. "Administration will be a nightmare. If you have even one dancer leave with a patron or meet with a patron it raises the specter of prostitution. The gaming board will send in agents, you can be sure," he says.

But Gentile also believes that intensifying competition is driving casinos to think the unthinkable. "There are five or six places that could get the high-roller crowd. We’re not talking about two-for-a-nickel bums here."

The struggling Aladdin has been mentioned as a logical venue. Lynn Holt, spokesman for the resort, confirmed that a topless show is being considered there. But it’s a conventional stage format - "sort of a Splash late show,’’ he says

Gentile says the Aladdin is not among the "four or five" casinos involved in strip club discussions.

Mandalay Resorts Group Senior Vice President John Marz envisions "lots of issues, including licensing problems" with a casino strip joint. "We’re not considering it," he flatly declared.

Until resorts step forward with a proposal, regulators remain noncommittal. An official state study of the issue was aborted in the mid-’90s when two gaming board members retired.