Nevada Brothels Hit Hard by Gas Prices

Advertisers like to say sex sells, but the rules of the game change when gas prices go up.

As the Silver State's fuel prices hit all-time highs, Nevada's brothel employees find it harder to make a living these days, leaving some people wondering whether they should stay in the business.

At the Stardust Ranch in eastern Nevada, bartender Cindy Howe says they're "down to only two girls. They don't want to come here because business is down."

The brothel is about to change hands after soaring gas prices affected the number of customers willing to drive out to Ely. Now its owners are forced to sell.

Truckers, who provide steady business to many of Nevada's 28 legal brothels, are now paying 40 percent more this year to fill up their rigs. A gallon of diesel averages $4.69 across the country, up $1.89, or 67.5 percent, from a year ago, according to the Department of Energy.

"Most of these truckers used to have $100 they could spend," Howe says. Now they're struggling to pay for fuel.

The Stardust's out-of-the-way location in downtown Ely doesn't help matters. Ely is 240 miles from Las Vegas, 320 miles from Reno and 240 miles from Salt Lake City, surrounded by open spaces.

"The cost of fuel is killing us," says Karl Hardy, who also works at the Stardust as a bartender. "Tourists can't afford it."

Hardy says he's worried about his job, but may find other work welding for a nearby mining company.

To provide customers with incentives, the Ranch offered free showers, parking and coffee. None of these perks translated into more business.

George Flint, a lobbyist for the Nevada Brothel Owners' Association, says many of the brothels are seeing decreases in revenue anywhere from 20 to 45 percent. He says he has "never seen it this dramatic" in 48 years.

"There are more and more women having second thoughts about staying in the business," he says. "The return for their time is not there. In northern Nevada, most of our business is supported by the truckers. They don't have much disposable income left."

Other brothels rely on tourists who are no less cash-strapped. In western Nevada at the Kit Kat Guest Ranch in Carson City, co-owners Jacie Caramella, 23, and her mother Shelia, 50, says they've cut costs to trim their overhead.

"We could be buried right now," Jacie Caramella says. "This year really hasn't been a good year."

Their clients, who tend to come from San Francisco and Sacramento, aren't traveling as often now that gas prices are so high. "I would say we're probably down 25 percent," Sheila Caramella says. "We had a really bad winter up near Reno, so you don't have the people coming over the hill."

Crafty Strategies

But some of these Nevada institutions aren't lacking for customers.

Jim Davis and his wife, Bobbi Davis, co-own the Shady Lady Ranch in Esmeralda County, near Las Vegas. In between answering the door to let in three different customers, Jim Davis explained that unlike most brothels where the women negotiate one-on-one with their clients behind closed doors in a private room, the Shady Lady posts its prices online. The business also advertises monthly promotions, such as June's $25 discount off the regular 40-minute rate of $200.

"Other brothels play the negotiation game," he says. "It's too far to drive for that kind of thing."

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