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Mustang Ranch: Nevada brothel owner elected county commissioner

November 19, 2012|By John M. Glionna
  • Brothel owner Lance Gilman, at the Mustang Ranch, won a seat as a county commissioner in Nevada.
Brothel owner Lance Gilman, at the Mustang Ranch, won a seat as a county commissioner… (Andy Barron, Reno Gazette-Journal…)

LAS VEGAS — When it comes to electing politicians, seems like Nevada voters like to keep an open mind.

Just ask Lance Gilman.

The owner of the infamous Mustang Ranch brothel recently became the first of his kind to win election to public office in Nevada since prostitution was legalized here in 1971. He won a seat as a Storey County commissioner by a wide margin. And he's believed to be the first to do so in the state's 148-year history.

Fact is, voters didn’t blink when casting their ballots for a proprietor of the world’s oldest profession.

State historians on Monday said Nevadans have long gotten past the “Phew!” factor when it comes to it elected representatives.

“The kinds of things that are criminal enterprises elsewhere in the country are just average everyday businesses here,” said Dennis McBride, director of the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas. “It started in 1931 when Nevada legalized gambling and simplified the divorce laws.”

Suddenly the “Welcome to Nevada” sign included an unofficial asterisk that welcomed, well, you name it.

“The gamblers who got run out of Texas and Los Angeles all came to Nevada, to Las Vegas and Reno and elsewhere, where they became respected businessmen who gave to the community,” McBride told the Los Angeles Times.

Gilman is a thriving businessman with dozens of employees — who cares if they don’t exactly work the typical office job? He also owns several business parks, a Harley-Davidson dealership and master-planned communities in California and Nevada.

Gilman, 68, told The Times that he ran hard on a business platform and that voters responded.

“I worked very diligently at becoming elected. I walked the county and went to 1,500 homes,” he said. “We all get this impression about how successful we are, but it was a humbling experience to stand on people's front porches and listen to their issues.”

He said only two people even brought up the fact that he was a brothel owner.

“People here see me for what I am, and that’s a successful local businessman. I’ve lived here for 15 years. In one of my business malls, I’ve got 130 companies and created 6,000 jobs. That’s something.”

He says he’s not ashamed to own the Mustang Ranch.

“Illegal prostitution is in every city in America and it’s horrible. But in Nevada it’s legal in most places. It’s been here, a product of our environment, since the 1800s.”

He won the Nov. 6 election with with 62% of the vote.

The Mustang Ranch, 10 miles east of Reno, has contributed more than $5 million to the county's budget over the last decade. It has 44 full-time employees, and 30 to 80 working girls, depending on the season.

Statewide, two dozen brothels legally operate in 10 of Nevada's 17 counties, but prostitution remains illegal in the counties that include Las Vegas and Reno.

McBride says that Gilman joins an colorful cast of people who have gotten elected to private office here — or tried to.

Oscar Goodman, a former lawyer for several well-known organized crime figures in the 1970s and '80s, served as the mayor of Las Vegas. And Jessi Winchester, a former prostitute at the Mustang Ranch, ran for Congress in 1996 and for state lieutenant governor in 2000 before writing a book called “From Bordello to Ballot Box.” She did not win, however.

McBride spent a moment racking his brain for an example of a gambler who graduated to public office.

“Can you count Sheldon Adelson?” he asked, referring to the  Las Vegas Sands owner and billionaire, who donated millions of dollars to conservative causes. “He tried to buy a few offices in the last election.”

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john.glionna@latimes.com

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