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IRS probe of clubs has some on edge

Details are emerging about the inner workings of the Las Vegas club scene, after last week’s federal raid on the city’s biggest nightspot left the industry rattled.

The Internal Revenue Service raid Wednesday at Pure Nightclub at Caesars Palace and Pure Management Group’s headquarters served notice that the government is taking a hard look at the cash-bloated clubs.

Some doormen are making $400,000 to $500,000 a year, sources told me.

Shaken employees from several local clubs contacted me to say they participated in what they are convinced was questionable handling of cash night after night.

A club regular e-mailed me text messages that appear to show aggressive shakedown tactics by some doormen.

A longtime doorman at a major club said he pulled in $22,000 in tips in a single night from clubgoers. Of the $22,000, he took home only his $600 a night pay.

After the doormen’s haul was counted out at 4 a.m. in a popular restaurant at the property, the rest went to the company, the source said.

“We were allowed to cut our own deals. There was no supervision whatsoever. We were making so much that the company finally got scared we were gouging people. It’s that big,” he said.

Some nightclubs, he said, have placed employees in restrooms outside the clubs and provided them with ink stamps for lucrative under-the-table deals with clubgoers who don’t want to wait in line.

A club regular sent me a printout of angry text messages he and a friend received in December after a Pure doorman demanded an additional tip.

“No tip,” texted the doorman, “and I just comped MORE people, I hope you make a trip to the front door and make this right.”

When the patron objected, saying he had already tipped on the way in, the doorman responded:

“Bullshit, I am the host that walked you all in !!!!!!!!!”

After several more text message exchanges, the doorman wrote, “Get down here now!” before adding this ominous line: “Don’t come around, this company and myself need you like I need a hole in my head, move on *nd stay AWAY, or u know the rest.”

The longtime doorman I interviewed added, “This IRS thing is going to change how all the clubs operate. Gaming licenses are at stake.”

Meanwhile, this clarification: In Saturday’s column, I inadvertently omitted a word in a sentence about whether the probe had included LAX Nightclub at Luxor. The sentence should have read: “An IRS spokeswoman on Friday said she could not confirm” an IRS search at LAX on Thursday.

However, the IRS spokeswoman, Diana Neilson, on Saturday said, “During the normal course of business, we are contacting third party individuals for various information, and I’m sure that’s what was going on. It wasn’t like a formal operation.”

Asked if it was likely that the investigation would widen, Neilson said, “No comment.”

THE SCENE AND HEARD

Audience members who have attended Bette Midler‘s “The Showgirl Must Go On” at Caesars Palace are grousing that the giant LED screen is not showing closeups of Midler and her cast.

A Friday attendee who said she paid $189 for a second mezzanine seat was unhappy that she couldn’t make out faces from that far up.

Show spokeswoman Kris Lingle said the LED screen, a fixture in Celine Dion and Elton John shows at the 4,000-seat Colosseum, “is not used as a live LED screen but rather as a constant background of video and show projections.” Expect a chorus of dissatisfaction.

SIGHTINGS

Actor/comedian Jay Mohr and wife Nikki Cox, formerly on NBC’s “Las Vegas,” at Midler’s show on Saturday. … Singer Ashlee Simpson, attending a fan meet-and-greet session Friday at the Pink Taco restaurant (Hard Rock Hotel). Simpson later dined at Social House restaurant (Treasure Island) with boyfriend Pete Wentz of the music group Fall Out Boy. They also checked out Pure nightclub (Caesars Palace) with her father, Joe Simpson. … Actors Freddie Prinze Jr. and Macaulay Culkin, checking in separately this weekend at the Palms’ Fantasy Tower. … Actor Robert Iler of “The Sopranos,” hosting the evening’s festivities Friday at Privé nightclub (Planet Hollywood Resort). Also at Privé: Kansas City Chiefs fullback Boomer Grigsby.

THE PUNCH LINE

“There’s never been a Best Picture with ‘Hottie’ or “Nottie’ in the title.” — From David Letterman‘s Top Ten Signs Your Film Is Not Going to be Winning an Oscar

Norm Clarke can be reached at (702) 383-0244 or norm@reviewjournal.com. Find additional sightings and more online at www.normclarke.com.

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