Lyon County is working to ensure its four legal brothels remain properly licensed after the death of former owner Dennis Hof, according to county manager Jeff Page.
“The brothels will remain open and the ordinance will remain in effect,” Page said. “The brothels are allowed and the double X zoning is specifically provided in county code. There won’t be any more brothels but in those locations.”
The facilities in Mound House — the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, Love Ranch, Sagebrush Ranch and Kit Kat Guest Ranch — were transferred to Madame Suzette Cole the day before Thanksgiving, according to Hof’s campaign manager and political consultant Chuck Muth. The county has been partnering with Cole to make sure the brothels abide by the county’s code.
Muth said business and personal circumstances have been a challenge for Cole and her team to determine their next steps after Hof.
“It’s still tough; no one saw this coming,” Muth said. “We know Dennis did have a will, but we haven’t seen that yet. We know that he had complete faith in Suzette, but all of a sudden, she had to do everything … and it’s been really, really tough. … I know she’s overwhelmed.”
Specific plans haven’t yet been announced by Cole or her marketing manager, James Jaklich. Attempts to speak with Cole were declined.
Page said the county will address concerns Cole and her team have regarding compliance. A recent audit from former Lyon County Sheriff Al McNeil outlined deficiencies vetting applications for sex workers and denoted the possibility of sex trafficking, with an average cost of $150,000 to make improvements within the sheriff’s department. The LCSO has one part-time clerk processing applications who doesn’t have the requisite skills to manage licensing applications, Page said, and the department doesn’t have the equipment available to verify Passports and out-of-state identification are authentic.
“The agency’s records system is not compatible with Storey County and Elko, which also register prostitutes,” Page said.
But Page added there was nothing to jeopardize the brothels’ licenses in Lyon County.
“Dennis was definitely the mouthpiece, and Suzette seems to have a good business sense about her and wants to get things straightened out,” he said. “Her corporate attorneys have reached out to us, but we’ll have that discussion with them about how they want to do that.”
Whatever issues are at hand, though, Lyon’s voters adamantly said they want to keep the brothels to provide revenue for the county with Advisory Question One. The final results in November showed 16,643 voters against the measure with 4,031 for it, or approximately 80 percent versus 20 percent voting against the initiative to rescind Title 3, chapter 5 of Lyon’s brothel ordinance to end the brothels and legalized prostitution.
The vote encouraged the sex workers themselves, who strongly depended on the voters’ rejection of the question to keep the brothels open and their livelihoods intact.
Sex worker Alice Little of the Bunny Ranch, who has spent the past couple of months assisting in efforts to eradicate misconceptions about the sensual services industry and the brothels with Lyon’s advisory question, said Hof provided a vital voice. Now, she’s looking forward to the possibility a new era being born under Cole’s oversight.
“Now, Madame Suzette owns and manages all those various properties, which means that the sex industry in Nevada is now female-owned, female-led and female-empowering,” Little said. “The majority of our employees are female. The majority of our employees are female. … If anything, I view it as a tremendous positive moving forward and I think we’re going to see a resurgence of the brothels in Nevada unlike anything we’ve seen in the past.”
Little said the employees experienced much relief at Question One’s failure.
“That petition, that ballot initiative was holding our futures at stake and holding them hostage,” she said. “…It’s a scary thing to think that in a second somebody has the power to vote away your livelihood, and in any other industry, that would absolutely never stand within this country. But because sex is so stigmatized, we’ve put brothels in their own separate category.”
Little and some of her coworkers are now part of the recently revived Nevada Brothel Association, which announced its comeback on Dec. 28. Its new website, www.nevadabrothelassociation.com, provides an overview and a roundup of perspectives from across the state on issues pertaining to the brothels as well as anti-prostitution views to better inform the public on what’s about to come.
Page said Lyon, too, will keep an eye on what will come from the Legislature.
“I think the interesting thing is, for all the hoopla, 80 percent of the voting population voiced the fact that they wanted the brothels left alone,” Page said. “Lyon County and the sheriff’s office and our public officials are ensuring our places are kept clean and the rules are being followed. I have no doubt in my mind this issue is not dead. It’s going to continue for some time. … People will be watching this next session.”