Eric Granof stands next to the plain red, white and blue sign that reads “Proud to be a bail agent.”
Just above him, the printed words “Welcome to the 2013 PBUS Winter Conference, Membership Meeting & Expo” helps the 300 or so attendees know they’re in the right place.
Beyond the welcoming signage, about 20 exhibitors are manning small, nondescript booths inside a ballroom at The Mirage. The scene is pretty tame, with people attending educational seminars scattered throughout a few rooms, wearing a mix of jeans, T-shirts and professional clothing.
The familiar neon lights advertising “Bail Bonds” with tongue-in-cheek company names are nowhere to be found.
The Professional Bail Agents of the United States is staying at The Mirage through today , bringing a mix of bail agents, insurance companies and service providers to the property. On average, The Mirage plays host to 400 meetings and conventions each year.
Among the attendees is Granof, a spokesman for Allegheny Casualty, International Fidelity and Associated Bond, commonly referred to as AIA. Annually, AIA writes about 400,000 bonds.
“Bail is a very interesting industry that I think a lot of people don’t understand,” Granof says. “There’s an image that has been portrayed for decades by Hollywood and reality television of bail agents as being less than desirable.”
Granof notes that bail agents often are third- and fourth-generation small-business owners, with more than 50 percent of them being women. The association has 525 members, but there are roughly 14,000 bail agents in the country. Individual association memberships cost $300 for voting rights or $120 for no rights.
“We would like to become more visible,” says Corrine Markley, CEO and executive director of the association. “There are lots of bail agents nationwide, here in Las Vegas included, that really aren’t aware of how we can help them.”
Las Vegas has more than 100 bail bond businesses owned by a small group of people. Most owners operate more than one location, such as Eli Goldman, who owns 8-Ball Bail Bonds and Escape Bail Bonds. He’s been in the local industry for eight years.
“Automatically, people think ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter.’ Mostly we’re in the office,” he says. And Goldman contracts out his bounties, so no defendant-chasing excitement for him.
So while perhaps the real-life bail bond industry isn’t always as exciting as the industry portrayed in the movies, that doesn’t mean nothing’s going on. Government-funded pre-trial release programs, for example, are threatening the bond business because defendants can be released with no bail, simply on their own recognizance.
Goldman says that’s becoming an issue in Las Vegas, and he’s seen defendants with larger bonds — to the tune of $60,000 — released on pre-trial.
“It definitely affects us because we’re losing potential bail there,” he explains. “Hopefully they’ll start to see if they don’t have a third party baby-sitting defendants, they don’t show up to court.”
Granof says there’s no vested interest in the pre-trial releases because the government doesn’t have the time and resources to devote to finding someone who ditches out after bailing out of jail, which can cause larger issues.
Perhaps because of the growing pre-trial release trend, overall industry growth is flat, according to Granof and Jeff Marculis, a claims manager for Universal Fire and Casualty Insurance Co.
“It’s staying the same because (the industry) is unique in that every state is different, and each one has its ups and downs,” Marculis says.
For people looking to find a bail agent, AIA created ExpertBail, a network of qualified agents. Founded in 2010, the organization uses social networking to market more than 5,000 companies. Listed agents in Las Vegas are: Escape Bail Bonds, Goodfellas Bail Bonds, Hero Bail Bonds and 8-Ball Bail Bonds.
“I think we’ve gotten a few referrals out of it,” Goldman says.
Contact reporter Laura Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4588. Follow @lscvegas on Twitter.