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Metro asks county to regulate hookah lounges

The Metropolitan Police Department wants Clark County to regulate hookah lounges.

Lt. Ailee Burnett pitched Metro’s case to the county commission in a Tuesday presentation titled, “The Ugly Side of Hookah.”

She cited illegal parties, prostitution, drug activity and shootings, including one that left one dead and injured more than a dozen others at an unlicensed establishment earlier this year.

Some establishments, Burnett said, have been operating as illicit nightclubs that are openly promoted online. Were it not for Metro’s proactive work shutting down the events before they happen, she said, the violence at hookah lounges would be more prolific.

She asked commissioners to consider requiring privileged licenses for such establishments, which would allow county officials and Metro to vet the business owners and their operations.

Commissioners already have been in discussions with the city of Las Vegas and the hookah industry potentially to establish uniformed regulations for the businesses.

Suggestions include: requiring Metro work cards for employees, restricting the establishments to be 21 and over, banning admission charges, and requiring suitability investigations, similar to those taverns have to undergo.

Burnett said there are upstanding hookah lounges, but that many more “circumvent” regulations, applying for a “supper club” licenses akin to one obtained by an eatery.

But instead of food, they allow hookah and illegally sell alcohol, while charging for admission, she said.

Currently, the county allows for hookah at restaurants and bars through permits, so long as the product’s revenue doesn’t surpass 50 percent of the establishment’s earnings.

Commissioner William McCurdy II echoed some of his colleagues in warning not to paint the entire industry with a broad brush. He took issue with a video shown by Burnett in which a woman in skimpy clothing was seen dancing as an example of a lounge operating like a club.

He said lawmakers should be cognizant of diverse cultures in the hookah businesses and their clientele. Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick said that educating the business owners through different means and languages can go a long way without having to draft and pass an ordinance.

After an hour-long discussion, it was not clear Tuesday whether commissioners would choose to regulate the industry, or use some of the county’s tools to bring hookah business owners into compliance and weed out the “bad actors.”

“There’s a lot of good actors,” Kirkpatrick said, adding “there’s very, very bad actors.”

Then there are those “trying to stay afloat,” she said.

The commission instructed to Vincent Queano, director of the Department of Business License, to continue working on the proposal.

Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com Follow him on Twitter @rickytwrites.

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