Poll: Many don’t back legalization of brothels, hash bars for tourism

Well, you’ve made yourselves clear: No hookers or hashish.

A new Review-Journal/8NewsNow poll found a strong majority of Nevadans against legalizing marijuana and prostitution to boost tourism. On the pot question, 79 percent of respondents gave the thumbs-down to Dutch-style hashish and marijuana bars in Las Vegas. Residents weighing in against brothels in Clark County proved even more overwhelming, with 64 percent of participants registering disapproval.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research conducted the survey of 405 registered Clark County voters. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Brad Coker, a pollster with Mason-Dixon, said even Nevada’s live-and-let-live ethos couldn’t nudge voters toward acceptance of controversial laws.

"Things are maybe a little desperate in Clark County these days, but I don’t think they’re quite that desperate yet," Coker said. "These kinds of issues push the limits of even a libertarian community. You could go to some very liberal communities, and the idea of legalizing prostitution would probably raise a few eyebrows."

Plus, setting up pot bars would fly against the broader, more mainstream visitor base local hotel-casino operators and tourism officials have worked to attract to Southern Nevada, Coker said. And then there’s the public-safety issue: It’s one thing to endorse pot smoking in the privacy of the home, but sticking hash bars on street corners is a whole different scene. Smokers might drive home after indulging, and that could make some voters leery of the idea, Coker said.

Nevada’s voters have the right idea, though, said Bill Thompson, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor who specializes in gambling studies and has observed the Las Vegas tourism market for 30 years.

Legalizing local brothels and hash bars would actually hurt the city’s hospitality sector, Thompson said.

For one thing, forget about girlfriends and wives tolerating their boyfriends’ and husbands’ weekend guys’ forays to a brothel-heavy Las Vegas. Legalizing prostitution here would unequivocally place Las Vegas in the category of un­acceptable places to visit, Thompson said.

Besides, if prostitution could yield such a great economic boost, then Mound House would be the Nevada town that hosts 36 million visitors a year.

"And I think you should really consider what kind of people this would draw," Thompson said. "We don’t need anymore sleazy people. It would be like having an NBA All-Star Weekend here every week."

Nor would pot bars bolster the gaming sector, Thompson said.

He and late UNLV economist Keith Schwer studied compulsive gamblers a while back and found that drinkers had the most severe issues with problem gambling, while drug users had the least-serious gambling habits. The lesson? Get consumers high, and they’ll spend less time at the craps tables. As Thompson points out, he’s walked into casinos at least 1,000 times, and never has he smelled marijuana in the air.

Despite the obstacles, numerous policymakers and advocacy groups have proposed legalizing prostitution or pot in Nevada and Las Vegas.

Most famously, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman in 2003 suggested turning downtown’s East Fremont Street into a "little Amsterdam," and called prostitution a potential "redevelopment tool." Legalized brothels would also generate revenue and provide a safer environment for the sex trade, he said.

Goodman wasn’t available to comment for this article before press time.

Initiatives to legalize marijuana appeared on state ballots in 2002 and 2006, going down in defeat both times. Sixty-one percent opposed the 2002 question calling for allowing Nevadans to carry three ounces of pot. The 2006 version fared a little better, with 56 percent voting it down.

And hilarity ensued in 2004 when pro-pot advocates lost petitions with roughly 6,000 signatures endorsing their ballot question, and subsequently failed to submit the documents to election registrars before the deadline. ("Dude, we forgot to take these sigs to The Man, man!!")

More recently, advocacy group Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws lost national backing from the Marijuana Policy Project in a bid to get yet another pro-legalization question on the ballot in 2012. Group leaders acknowledged on Aug. 3 that their effort could end as a result, though they didn’t respond to a query for this story.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.

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