Alleging performances so lewd and sexually explicit they violate obscenity laws, Las Vegas Sands Corp. executives are trying to evict the adult-themed nightclub The Act from their Strip property.
District Judge Susan Scann could soon decide if the simulated drug use and sex acts, many involving costumed performers wearing strap-on dildos, is so depraved that Sands can terminate the lease of the 10-month-old nightclub.
Las Vegas Sands lawyers have requested an injunction to force the club to halt lewd or obscene behavior in the meantime.
On Monday, Las Vegas Sands security chief Brian Nagel, a former Secret Service Agent who once served on President Bill Clinton’s protection detail, took the witness stand to carefully describe activities observed at the club.
Nagel said he sent undercover security officers to The Act in March after Nevada Gaming Control Board enforcement chief Jerry Markling and the Metropolitan Police Department relayed complaints they had received.
The undercover agents reported that performers would fling condoms into the crowd and simulate bestiality, urination and defecation on other performers, he said. There was also simulated masturbation resulting in simulated ejaculation, he said. Some performers were semi-nude, he said.
But Pat Lundvall, a lawyer representing the club, seized on Nagel’s use of the word “simulated.” Lundvall contended that because the performances are simulated, they are not lewd and do not violate obscenity laws.
Sands lawyer Charles McCrea declined to comment after the hearing Monday.
The Act, which occupies 16,000 square-feet in the Shoppes at the Palazzo, was built at a cost of $15 million. Its lawyers said it has never shied from its adult reputation and that its operators believed Las Vegas Sands executives embraced the theme.
“Landlord and (Las Vegas Sands) had full knowledge of the nature of the adult-themed nightclub,” club lawyers said in court documents. The lease, they contend, requires a show similar to that at The Box, a famously naughty nightclub with venues in New York and London.
Prior to the club’s opening last October, producer Simon Hammerstein told Review-Journal columnist Doug Elfman that the performances “will shock you. It’s not burlesque. It is kind of edgy, late-night theater. If you’re easily embarrassed, you shouldn’t come.”
But on April 26 Las Vegas Sands executives notified club operators they had gone to far and must clear out. Banners and promotional videos that had been shown throughout Sands’s Venetian and Palazzo property were removed, and all Internet advertising was stopped.
Four days later, lawyers for The Act responded with a request for a restraining order to halt the closure. Las Vegas Sands executives had “manufactured this ‘breach’ in an attempt to improperly evict The Act from its premises,” they wrote in court documents.
The Act remains open during the ongoing legal dispute, and on Thursday will play host to a Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce “Business After Hours” networking event.
On Monday, Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett said he had received “a few complaints” about the nightclub and had passed them on to Las Vegas Sands.
The control board does not have an ongoing investigation concerning the nightclub, he said.
“We are aware of The Act, but generally we leave it up to the licensee to make a determination on their own. That is kind of where this is,” he said.
But the board has in the past taken action against casino operators who allow or ignore improper activity.
In March, Burnett and Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie sent a letter to all Las Vegas resort leaders reminding them that they are responsible for any criminal conduct on their properties, even if the venue is a nightclub, ultra lounge or day club operated by a third party.
“Recent investigations have not only shown a lack of enforcement effort to curtail criminal activity on the part of patrons, but that venue staff have played an active role in condoning and/or facilitating the criminal activity,” the authorities wrote.
The letter followed several high-profile criminal incidents and investigations on the Strip, including a $1 million fine levied in January against the Palms Casino following an investigation of prostitution and drug dealing at the property’s clubs.
The board also issued a sternly worded warning to the casino-resort industry in 2009 after Planet Hollywood paid a $750,000 fine and admitted resort officials were lax in policing illegal activity in the independently-operated Privé nightclub.
Privé employees were accused an array of offenses that included liquor law violations, allowing topless and lewd activity, ignoring prostitution and physically and sexually assaulting patrons.
Burnett said the casino industry as a whole has been sensitive to potential violations after this year’s warning letter was issued.
“The Sands has been very good to work with in keeping us notified on what is going on,” Burnett said.