Prostitution in Nevada

Nevada is the only state in the country that allows legalized regulated brothels, but only in small rural counties comprised of 700,000 people or less. Towns and cities within these counties may choose to permit regulated brothels or prohibit sex trade altogether. Currently, seven out of 16 counties have active brothels with a total of 21 brothels. Prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas and Reno, where the vast majority of the sex trade occurs.

Because of people’s misunderstanding of the law and the party atmosphere of Las Vegas, this city, and Nevada overall, has more arrests annually than any other city or state in the U.S. Because the legal establishments are in competition with the illegal and untaxed paid sex that occurs in private residences or hotel rooms, Nevada’s brothels are probably more expensive than just about anywhere on the planet. They also only employ a tiny fraction of sex workers in the state since the barrier to entry is incredibly high, including criminal background checks, regular STI screenings, and often having to live at the brothel for certain periods of time. While a good labor option for women who qualify and are hired at brothels, the state of the law in Nevada is not an ideal model for national decriminalization.

In 2018, a Lyon County ballot initiative gave voters the option to ban brothels in their county but was overwhelmingly defeated. Prohibitionist activists also tried, but failed, to get an initiative on the ballot in Nye County in November 2018 as well.

Of the remaining 15 counties in the state, brothels are legal in approximately 10 counties. This law is far from ideal, because prostitution is legal only within the confines of a small number of licensed establishments (the brothels); any county over 700,000 is banned (used to be 200,000). It could go either way with existing brothel owners getting brothels legal in the two big counties. People still get arrested in small counties if not individually licensed or work at unlicensed establishments.

Last updated: 2020-02-15