I remember visiting Vegas with my parents in the 1970s, a wide-eyed teenager gaping at the number of hookers on the Strip. Where did they go?

Until the early 1980s, streetwalkers were rampant in Las Vegas. They were so aggressive that some locals remember being almost pulled from their cars by “Hey, baby!” solicitations. I recall a warm summer high school evening, cruising the Strip and tossing taunts from the passenger window of my pal’s VW Beetle to the lithe lineup of short skirts and high heels propped against the front of the Flamingo, only to be caught by a red light. Two of the gals rushed over and started pounding the curved windshield, demanding I put my money where my mouth was. Thankfully, the light changed and we buzzed off, laughing nervously.

But Old Vegas started shifting to New Vegas in 1983, after John T. Moran Sr. ousted Clark County Sheriff John McCarthy. McCarthy had run the department for just four years (after upending the 18-year old-school tenure of Ralph Lamb) when Moran trumped him, at least in part, on a pledge to rid the Strip of streetwalkers. Similar to the efforts of Mayor Rudy Giuliani in New York City a little over a decade later, Moran hoped to help scrub the Sin City image, ostensibly to protect and enhance tourism. Within three months of taking office, the hookers had vanished, thanks to Moran’s emboldened vice squad.

Of course the oldest profession never disappeared; it simply shifted its Vegas storefront. Pushed into the less-obvious (and less bothersome, at least to our tourist trade) Yellow Pages, “escort service” soon grew to comprise the healthiest chunk of local phone book advertising—and a source of glee for teenaged boys across the Valley, sort of a Sears catalog on Ecstasy.

Given the rapid decline of the phone book, you’ll find that the trade has moved again—right back to the Strip. Ironically, we’ve traded the aggressive streetwalkers of the 1970s for the aggressive “smut peddlers” of the 21st century, passing out those little “entertainer” trading cards. The card-snappers command similar Strip real estate, and are arguably equally as off-putting to tourists as actual prostitutes. Today’s sidewalk fight is a little more complex, however, as the peddlers are protected by the First Amendment and regulating them has been a bear. Still, one can’t help but wonder what Sheriff Moran would have done.

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