Fuel prices have come down but the economy still stinks. So what's a far-flung Nevada brothel to do?
At the Shady Lady Ranch, owner Bobbi Davis has swapped gas cards for credit cards.
Throughout the month of January, the Nye County bordello about 150 miles northwest of Las Vegas will hand out prepaid Discover gift cards worth $50 to anyone who purchases at least 300 bucks in services.
"Basically we're just trying to give a little something back," Davis said. "This is something they can spend on anything."
The Shady Lady made headlines in June when Davis announced plans to "stimulate the economy" by giving out $50 gasoline gift cards to paying customers.
The promotion worked like a charm. "We gave out over 2,000 (gas) cards in one month. It really helped us a lot," Davis said.
That's a handout worth more than $100,000. All told, Davis said, the gas cards attracted about 500 extra customers on top of the thousand or so the brothel normally services in July.
Those numbers, which translate to about six customers a day every day for each of the five women who work at the brothel when it is fully staffed, could not be verified.
At least one person familiar with Davis' operation dismissed the sales figures as bogus.
"That's a whole truckload of misinformation," said George Flint, who owns a Reno wedding chapel and lobbies on the behalf of the state's legal bordellos. "I know every brothel in the state intimately. If she sees even 100 tricks in a month, she's got to be jumping for joy."
Flint said not even Sherri's Ranch, Southern Nevada's largest legal brothel, posts numbers like the ones Davis is claiming.
At the time Davis rolled out her high-octane tease last summer, regular unleaded was selling for $4.25 a gallon in the Las Vegas Valley. Now the average price is about $1.84 a gallon, according to AAA.
Davis said the Shady Lady has seen business decline by 5 or 6 percent as a result of the flagging economy, but the brothel has fared far better than other Nevada enterprises.
"Honestly and truly we've been hanging in pretty good," said Davis, who has owned and operated the bordello with her husband for 16 years. "We did better last year than we did the year before."
The biggest impact of the economic crisis is on the supply side, she said. There are women who want to come work at the house but can't because they can't afford to make the trip.
"They just can't get away from where they're at," Davis said. "We have the business, but we don't have the girls always to do the business."
If that's true, Flint said, the Shady Lady must be doing "a lot better than anybody else" in Nevada. Most of his clients are reporting declines in business of between 15 percent and 40 percent.
"The brothels exist on disposable income. The success of brothels is pretty well tied to the economy," said Flint, executive director for the Nevada Brothel Owners Association.
He added that more women seem to be turning to legal prostitution "because they're hurting financially," while those already in the industry are having to survive on significantly less income as business continues to slow.
Davis said about 60 percent of the Shady Lady's customers come from at least one state away from Nevada. "They're on a trip to Las Vegas. They're doing business in Las Vegas. Sometimes they're doing business in Reno," she explained.
The other 40 percent of customers come from Nevada or a neighboring state.
Davis credits her brothel's low, no-haggle pricing -- $300 gets you one hour with the Shady Lady of your choice -- for keeping the place going, even during the downturn.
The bordello on U.S. Highway 95 north of Beatty also has boosted its profile with ads in several Las Vegas publications -- a right Davis fought for and won in 2007, when a federal judge struck down the state's ban on brothel advertising.
The Shady Lady has a full-color ad in the latest edition of CityLife, the alternative weekly paper owned by Stephens Media, parent company of the Review-Journal. The ad features a clip-out coupon for $50 off any "party" of an hour or longer for any customer who comes in with his car rental agreement in hand.
But don't get too excited, fellows. Davis said she only honors one promotion at a time, so customers have to choose between the discount or the Discover card.
Business has been so steady at the Shady Lady that Davis soon plans to open a bungalow catering to overnight guests. She's calling it Peacock Cottage.
"I could use about four more girls," she said. "Then I'd really be in tall cotton."
Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350.