The Show-Me State Asks Strippers to Show Less

New rules ban booze, dancers coming within 6 feet of patrons and ... undressing.

July 16, 2010, 9:57 AM

July 16, 2010 — -- As she slips on her clear heels and steps onto the stage, "Sally" is a fantasy in the flesh.

But off the pole, she's a Missouri mother of four whose life is a constant hustle.

"My daughters model, dance, you know, soccer," Sally said. "And then my boys -- football you know, if I worked a regular job, there's no way I could do those things. ... A lot of the [strippers] are, that's what's funny, a lot of the girls are moms and they live a normal life."

Watch the full story tonight on 'Nightline' at 11:35 p.m. ET

A normal life for now -- but that could soon change. Strippers in the Show-Me State are about to show a lot less, thanks to a law to go into effect Aug. 28 that puts the toughest regulations on adult businesses in the country.

State Sen. Matthew Bartle has spent the past eight years, crusading against what he calls smut shops, places he says spawn prostitution, drugs and other crime. He said that in his perfect world, all the establishments would be out of business.

Bartle's law bans full nudity and alcohol sales. It forces clubs to close at midnight, keeps customers at least 6 feet from the stage and bans touching between the dancers and the customers.

"I think [the clubs] are places that deepen stereotypes about women and are degrading to women," Bartle said. "I know there are many that disagree with me, I've heard all the arguments, it's art and this, that and the other. That's the choice I make. The lawmaking was focused on, what are the ripple effects from having these businesses in our communities?"

Dick Bryant represents a group of club owners, preparing to sue the state. He says Bartle's "ripple effects" are a myth.

"This is no role for government," Bryant said. "Regardless of whether you like it or not, it's not the role for government to be saying what's moral, what's immoral.

"This is a legislator imposing his will on the citizens of the state. No one is being required to come into adult entertainment facilities. People aren't forced in off the street, they're not dragged into these places. The businesses blend into the community. Kansas City was studied a few years ago, and ... they couldn't demonstrate one place where there was a decreased value, increased crime or a problem caused by the presence of the business."

Missouri Strippers: Tax Revenue Loss

Dick Snow has run Bazooka's Showgirls for the last three decades. The new restrictions will force him to close.

"We're an established Kansas City business," Snow said. "It's just amazing to us that suddenly we're an illegal business. ... I mean, most of our business is between 10:30 and 3 a.m., so it just takes the sails right out of our business. And it's done on purpose. I mean, there's no other reason to do that. I don't understand the justification for closing at midnight. I never heard a decent justification for that except to destroy the business."

Having to close his business, Snow said, would mean putting 145 people -- from the doorman to the DJ to the hostesses to, of course, the dancers -- out of work.

"All my employees are very worried, yeah," said Snow. "Not only are my employees worried, but their spouses are worried. I mean, these are the paychecks that pay the mortgage and buy the groceries and make the car payment."

These businesses employ about 3,000 people across Missouri, and generate millions in state taxes.

"Nightline" asked Bartle about tax revenue losses from the businesses, which contribute an estimated $4 million in state taxes annually.

He said that in the "world of reality," not all of that tax revenue would leave the state. In his "perfect world," however, all the clubs would close.

Under the new law, women would still be able to dance -- just with a lot more clothes on, and a lot less interaction between them and the customers.

Sally, the dancer, said that interaction was important to the clubs' viability.

"It's very important," she said. "I mean, that's the biggest part of this club. A guy sees if he likes you or not, and then they invite you over and then that's when interaction starts, and that's where money comes into play. Because a lot of them want to help you, and they like your conversation, and they feel like this is your job and so they tip you, or they get a dance or two. So, if it was just strictly stage, then we wouldn't make money and the owner wouldn't make money. So, there wouldn't be no point in the clubs, any of the clubs, staying open anymore."

Missouri Strippers: Free Speech

We asked Megan, another dancer, about Sen. Bartle's point that all of this is demeaning to women.

"To me, it isn't demeaning," Megan said. "To me, it is an opportunity to express myself. It's an opportunity for these girls to express themselves. It's an opportunity to make a choice for themselves. I don't think it's Sen. Bartle's position or place to make decisions for these women. I don't think it's his place to try to impose his morals and his beliefs on people in the state. The next thing you know, we'll be burning copies of 'Catcher in the Rye.'"

This bump-and-grind isn't quite "Catcher in the Rye," but there is a free speech argument to be made.

"The United States Supreme Court has said in the case of Renton v. [Playtime theaters] that nudity can be free expression," First Amendment attorney Jon Katz said. "When you require a person to cover themselves from the waist down, when you require them to cover themselves from the breasts down, except for the cleavage, you're censoring their body. You're censoring their breasts."

Dick Bryant plans a lawsuit based not on the First Amendment but on a possible procedural misstep. He said Bartle's bill did not include an accurate economic impact statement, which the state constitution requires. The argument could get the whole thing thrown out.

"If Sen. Bartle says there is no significant impact, than he's just wrong," said Bryant. "The economic impact statement that was attached to the bill said there was less than $100,000 in actual lost revenues. We know from a sampling from the businesses that the numbers are way over that."

Bartle disagreed.

"If you look at the overall economic impact," he said, "it's infinitesimally small. So that to me is not a highly credible argument."

Megan foresaw broader economic fallout if the new rules take effect.

"I think the effect will really cause even larger problems in the economy of the state of Missouri, and it's not like we have much room for error here," she said. "You know, we're running things very tight in the state financially, and to put more people out of work, you're just begging people to go on state support, which is eventually going to hit every man. ... The trickle-down will hit everybody's pockets."

Bartle said the economy could take it.

"Everybody has choices," he said. "There are thousands and thousands of opportunities out there for folks. These are tough economic times, without a doubt, I don't dispute that. But I have confidence that people will able to find other jobs."

But both Megan and Sally have been dancing here for the last 16 years -- and this is hardly the kind of experience that works on a resume.

The strippers and the senator will see each other in court.

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