Reporting from Tonopah, Nev. — Brothel owner Bobbi Davis got the go-ahead Tuesday to hire what her website cheekily calls "a few good men."
Her Shady Lady Ranch is searching for "service-oriented" guys willing to become Nevada's first legal male sex workers.
"I personally feel, as do the many other women who have made contact with me since I started this, that this is a service whose time has come," Davis said in a letter to Nye County officials.
A county board's vote Tuesday affirming that Davis could offer "shady men" to her clientele followed months of rancorous debate among the state's legal brothel community. The industry, in its own peculiar way, is somewhat conservative: Considered an anachronism of bawdy mining camps by some Nevada newcomers, it often balks at change.
Of course, new ideas in a business unique to Nevada (in its legal form) are a touch different. Adding porn stars to brothel lineups rankled some owners. Overturning a ban on brothel advertising, a battle Davis and the American Civil Liberties Union helped lead, also stirred up debate. Though neither change shuttered the state's 25 or so bordellos -- some would argue the publicity helped -- many owners still operate in an off-the-grid manner, wary of being shut down.
George Flint, longtime lobbyist for the Nevada Brothel Assn., has said that allowing male prostitutes could be the industry's Pearl Harbor. He has hinted that brothels possibly offering gay sex -- a choice each prostitute, as an independent contractor, would be free to make -- might sour some legislators on the entire brothel system.
Nevada lawmakers are notoriously skittish when discussing the birds and bees. The Legislature, even when severely cash-strapped, has repeatedly declined to tax the brothels (which are banned in Reno and Las Vegas) for fear of, well, legitimizing the business.
"This is the first time in the history of the world . . . that men have been licensed to sell sex," Flint said Tuesday, his voice rising. "It's never been done!"
Davis and her husband, Jim, merely hope to boost business. Their small outpost near Death Valley, about 150 miles northwest of Las Vegas, offers as many as five women, relies heavily on travelers and has gotten some requests for gigolos.
After announcing her plans this summer, Davis and attorney Allen Lichtenstein succeeded where the better-known Hollywood Madam, Heidi Fleiss, had failed. In 2005, Fleiss announced that she was moving to Pahrump, in southern Nye County, in hopes of creating a "stud farm." She opened a Laundromat instead.
Davis figures that, even if it's a flop, adding men to her roster is worth trying. She has been inundated with more than 100 applications, she said, though she held off on hiring until she'd cleared all bureaucratic hurdles.
The final one: Tuesday's meeting of the Nye County Licensing and Liquor Board, which is made up of five county commissioners and Sheriff Tony DeMeo, who had been openly skeptical of Davis' plan.
Opponents who promised to take buses to Tonopah, however, failed to show up. Not one constituent spoke about the proposal. But DeMeo, Flint and Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlite BunnyRanch, raised concerns about monitoring the spread of infectious diseases, though state health regulators had already cleared the way for male sex workers.
"You guys can't scare me," said Commissioner Lorinda Wichman before voting in Davis' favor. "I'm going to try this."
Though the vote was relatively nonconfrontational, the discussion beforehand showed how much controversy remains. For much of Davis' speech, officials rested their chins in their hands, lowered their eyes or slumped in their chairs. When the sheriff noted that Davis' statement varied from her letter to commissioners, she read aloud one section with force.
"It seems the biggest hoopla is a great fear in some people's minds that some kind of homosexual activity might go on," she said. "Why panic I don't understand . . . it's not my intent to encourage or promote or to turn my business into a 'gay property.' "
DeMeo wondered whether sex workers could check female customers for signs of disease as easily as men. Davis said yes.
"If you want me to go into the inspection routine, I will," she said.
"Please don't!" said a commissioner, to laughter.