How did Atlantic City beat Vegas to having the first legit strip club inside a casino?
It’s true that on September 12, Scores—an Eastern U.S. chain of topless clubs—launched a $25 million adult-entertainment outpost in the Trump Taj Majal. Scores had been asking permission to open in an Atlantic City casino for years, but it wasn’t until December 2011 that the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement ruled they could. But all is not what it seems. Gaming enforcement set some stipulations: Unlike dancers at other Scores locations, those at Scores Taj Mahal are required to wear fabric pasties. And lap dances, a staple of any topless club, are strictly prohibited. That’s hardly a strip club, in my book.
But your question begs another: When will Las Vegas have strip clubs inside casinos? I’d wager never. Both Nevada and New Jersey have already had high-end burlesque revivals within casinos (R.I.P., Forty Deuce and Venus), and Strip casinos still offer topless stage shows that can be called artistic. But an actual strip club (and the unvarnished sexuality that goes along with one) in a casino? Not likely. Why? Look to the brouhaha surrounding The Act, whose artistically naughty stage shows are at least part of the reason its relationship with the Venetian ended abruptly.
Nevada, which has been hyper-focused on keeping gambling “clean” since at least the late 1980s, leans heavily on the “moral turpitude” clause in our gaming regulations. Regulators can not only proactively thumbs-down anything they feel may sully Nevada gaming’s image, but also collect whopping fines after the fact. (Look at how quickly Caesars severed its relationship with Gansevoort after allegations surfaced that the latter had Russian mob ties.) A few poker machines at a stand-alone topless club is one thing; a hundred mostly naked strippers doing lap dances 20 yards from a resort’s Wolfgang Puck restaurant is another.
The conflict that comes from being a “gambling town” that now fancies itself a “gaming city” manifests a challenging identity crisis for Las Vegas. A city in adolescence, Las Vegas struggles with what we think we are, what others think we are, and who we think we want to be. And, ultimately, we appear to be trading all our vices to protect one. But gaming isn’t a vice, now, is it?