Cabby laments toll ‘clip joints’ take on colleagues’ reputation

At the drunken strip club patron’s request, a cabby shuttles him a couple miles to a business where he will – or he thinks he will – fulfill his Vegas fantasy by wrapping up his night with a wild happy-ending encounter with a beautiful woman.

The taxi driver drops the guy off and hands over a phone number for a different cab company, knowing he wants no part of the return ride. The driver then pockets a $200 kickback from the club owner.

It’s a pretty lucrative gig for the cabby. But for the passenger? Not so much. If the taxi driver is pulling in $200, the club is very likely what they call a “clip joint” and the customer is a guaranteed sucker.

Clip joints are a scam where the customer pays a hefty cover charge to get into a small lounge, is swarmed with women, presented a drink menu with no prices and strongly urged to buy a cocktail. The assumption is that the guy will down a drink to relax, then have sex with one or more of these women.

The reality is, he has no chance of getting lucky. Instead, he is charged hundreds of dollars for drinks and tips and bounced out the door, many times drugged.

That’s the condition in which Gary, a local taxi driver who asked that his last name not be used, found his ride a couple months ago. He was dizzy and confused; pushed out of a “club” in the 4500 block of Industrial Road.

“I didn’t even want to take the ride because he was so (expletive) up,” Gary said. “I said, ‘Where are we going?’ and he didn’t even know. Eventually he remembered he was staying at Mandalay Bay. He said they had given him a cup of tea.”

Most people probably thought “clip joints” were hair salons until the reports last month of a British tourist being stabbed at the Red Devil Fitness Spa, which advertises itself as a foot and hand massage business. Police said the man was attacked by a bouncer after he threw a fit because he wasn’t getting what he paid for – sex. The story hit the media when the spa owner and several employees were arrested.

In Gary’s case, he suggested that his passenger call police. But the truth is, the victims won’t call authorities, and the operators of these businesses know it. Often, they are married. In addition, prostitution is illegal in Clark County, and they can get nailed for soliciting sex.

Gary said the practice has gone unnoticed for years, and he fears a handful of greedy taxi drivers are giving the entire cab industry another black eye.

While he hears other drivers talk about their gains from clip joints, he swears that he stays far away from strip clubs. He said he has a restricted permit, meaning he can’t pick up passengers from the airport, downtown or the Strip. That’s the way he wants it. He prefers to cater to locals.

So while cabbies are making the long trip to the Electric Daisy Carnival later this week and pulling in $40 to $50 a trip, he is perfectly content picking up senior citizens and taking them to the grocery store.

“I don’t play the strip clubs,” he said. “Most of the guys are drunk and out of money. I am one of the good guys. That’s why I deal with the locals.”

Gary realizes that what happens inside massage parlors is illegal, but at least someone in search of a happy-ending rubdown won’t get ripped off. He’ll pick up an $80 kickback at times, but at least he knows that his passenger won’t be drugged or beaten.

“There is no way I want to pick up someone who has just been ripped off,” he said.

He is bothered that anytime some sordid scam arises, cabbies are somehow involved. He wishes the Nevada Taxi Cab Authority would be more aggressive in punishing the scammers.

Years ago, there was an all-out war between strip clubs paying taxi drivers to guide tourists to their businesses. In a battle to land customers, owners paid cabbies up to $100 per patron brought to their joint. It first started at about $20 a head, but one club after another upped the ante.

Taxi drivers might not have been responsible for the war, but it encouraged some questionable behavior. For example, if a group of tourists requested a ride to the Spearmint Rhino, the driver would say, no, the dancers there are old and unattractive, the Olympic Garden’s strippers were hotter. The cabbies knew where their money was coming from.

Gary said one of the reasons he opted for a restricted permit is because the owner of his cab company wrote him up for not long-hauling passengers and meeting his daily quota. Long-hauling, of course, is when cabbies take passengers through the airport connector tunnel to Interstate 215 to Interstate 15 to the Strip, when the quickest route is straight up Tropicana Avenue.

The most egregious long-haul Gary heard about from a fellow driver bragging to his colleagues was a trip to the Hard Rock Hotel. The driver turned a two-mile jaunt into a 12-mile run; an $8 fare into a $30 fare.

“The rip-offs raise the average,” he said. “I was going to lose my job because I wasn’t going to steal from people. I like to pick up the old lady at the grocery store. I get a $5 tip, and I’m happy with that.”

Gary knows the times of year when visitors to our fine – yet sometimes scary – city should be especially aware of a cabby’s intention to direct them to a clip joint: Super Bowl weekend, NASCAR weekend and the National Finals Rodeo, to name a few.

The upcoming Electric Daisy Carnival goers aren’t much of a concern. Those crazy partiers are usually headed straight to bed after the never-ending bash.

Cabbies probably know more about what goes on in this town than anybody. Some take advantage of the tourists. Others just want them to be aware and protect themselves from sordid businesses such as clip joints.

“The guys get teased all night at a strip club, and they want to know of a good massage parlor,” Gary said. “These drivers are taking them to clip joints, and they know it. It’s ruining our reputation as cabdrivers.”

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Adrienne Packer at 702-387-2904, or send an email to roadwarrior Include your phone number. Also, you can follow her on Twitter @RJ_RoadWarrior.

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