Economic Tough Times Hit Nevada Brothel

Times are tough at famous Nevada brothel "Mustang Ranch."

November 21, 2008, 3:57 PM

Nov. 22, 2008— -- A woman who had just scored a precious high-paying job in the midst of a disastrous economy was willing to fly in from out of town to take it.

Her new boss, Susan Austin, had spared no expense and the woman was quickly whisked into a waiting limo at the Reno, Nev., airport.

For the sake of privacy, we're calling the woman "Kimberly," and the coveted job she got was as a prostitute at one of the few places in America where it's legal -- the self-proclaimed "world famous" Mustang Ranch.

"I'm nervous, you know," said Kimberly, who would be working as a prostitute for the first time. "I've got a little shake. I'm more nervous than I think I've ever been in my life."

'No Callbacks, No Interviews, No Nothing'

Kimberly's explanation for getting into the business is simple. Times are tough, so tough she says she couldn't find any other way to make a living.

"I filled out 20 or 30 applications," said Kimberly. "No call backs, no interviews, no nothing, so you know, I've decided to come down here to make money to live on my own and survive because the economy is bad."

Kimberly went from applying to work at a day care facility or behind the counter at a department store, to getting on a plane and taking a job at a brothel.

The Mustang Ranch is more like a small compound, tucked away off the highway and surrounded by mountains.

As Kimberly headed inside, "Madam Susan" Austin, Mustang's manager, explained that these are unique times and the world's oldest profession is not immune.

"I have more ladies coming in now than I ever did before because of the economic times," she said. "They're all coming in. [It's] the only way to make some decent money in this time and age. Jobs are not that many available because of the economic times and they can make more money doing this than they can flipping burgers at McDonald's."

The first stop for Kimberly was the doctor's office, where she confirmed that she'd never worked in a brothel before.

Prostitution: More Demand, Less Money

The Mustang Ranch is a multimillion-dollar business and, despite the unique product, it's run with sophistication and a keen eye on the profit margin. Austin is a former prostitute and shrewd businesswoman who never goes anywhere without her German guard dog named Cita. These days, she is worried. Despite strong demand, the clients are spending less money.

"Well, recently, business has dropped off dramatically dollar-wise, a lot of men coming in, a lot of parties, but less money," she said. "They don't have as much to spend."

The girls at the brothel love to brag about making big money; thousands a week in some cases. But the women are willing to accept less, Austin said.

"They have obligations as well, they've got to earn their living they've got families to support, bills to pay, their lifestyle is changing a little bit as a result of it."

A prostitute named Ginger told "Nightline" that, in terms of her discussions with clients, money is a hot topic these days.

"Yeah, I mean [clients are] very open about it and that's why we, like I said, we try to work with them. We're not going to turn them down, you know, everyone is suffering a little bit right now," she said.

"I always say that people will find money for the three things they love in life: drugs, liquor and sex," said one woman. "So with that being said, I think people will actually extend their budget a little bit and put off paying that one bill and come here and get that stress relief that they can get from spending a couple hours with a lady."

The irony for Austin is that while the money is drying up, more women are applying for jobs. "And the age group is going older," she said. "I had a 72-year-old apply for a job."

She says the poor economy has forced her to lay off 30 percent of her staff, unheard of in a business generally regarded as a printing press for making money.

Optimism Reigns Despite Economic Woes

After settling in, the new girl Kimberly was given an all-important lesson in the art of negotiation from a woman who's been assigned as her "big sister."

"Could you spend a thousand on me?" Kimberly pretended to ask. "You look like you're worth it," her mentor replied, laughing.

Kimberly says that, despite the tough economy, she's optimistic. And Austin was unabashedly supportive of her girls and what they do. She says if there's anyone who can survive a steep economic downturn, it's the women who work at the brothel.

"Economy is hard, times are hard and when times are hard, women are stronger of the group, and will do anything necessary to make sure the children are taken care of and our husbands, if necessary," she said.

It's an economics lesson from women who know a thing or two about supply and demand.