From Handbills to Proposed Bills: Suggestions for Regulating the Las Vegas "Strip" Tease

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

The world-class resorts that shape Las Vegas' neon skyline draw millions of visitors each year. These tourists are the lifeblood of the economy, and they come to enjoy the attractions and densely concentrated along Las Vegas Boulevard. resort district, known as the Strip, offers visiting pedestrians architectural views, inexpensive meals, live sidewalk shows, access to numerous hotel-casinos. However, while these attractions have been proven to effectively generate profits for resort owners, another force now aggressively competes for the time and attention of would-be resort patrons.

Visitors walking along the Strip are constantly bombarded with adult- themed handbills distributed by off-premises canvassers.1 The majority of this material depicts graphic advertisements for referral services that provide erotic dancers directly to visitors' hotel rooms.2

Because of its dense concentration of relatively new resorts, the Strip is often inundated with pedestrians using inadequately sized sidewalks to travel between attractions.3 This congestion has created what county commissioners have termed a "captive audience" for opportunistic adult outcall businesses, which use canvassers to obstruct high-traffic areas, effectively forcing their handbills on visitors.4 To make matters worse, the frequency of pedestrian delay has increased significantly during recent years as a result of fierce competition between outcall services. Because each service aims to outsell its competitors, each has the incentive to have the largest canvassing presence in the most congested locations.5 This "competitive cycle" has resulted in a glut of handbillers lining both sides of the Strip's bottlenecked sidewalks, creating gauntlets of graphic advertising "through which pedestrians must pass and in which the pedestrians are forced to take the proffered advertising."6 Occasionally, pedestrians wishing to avoid the graphic material are forced into the dangerous street as they attempt to bypass the cordons of canvassers.7

This competitive and congested atmosphere has resulted in tourist harassment, physical disputes among canvassers, and extreme amounts of sexually charged litter.8 These conditions directly affect resort patronage, particularly at the resorts abutting premium canvassing locations.9 As a result, between 1994 and 1996, numerous resorts and other businesses brought civil actions to enjoin canvassers from engaging in such obstructive and abusive practices. This led to the issuance of over twenty court orders concerning pedestrian abuse.10

Recognizing the need to regulate aggressive canvassing tactics, Clark County has repeatedly attempted to enact a legislative solution. In 1994, county commissioners enacted the Obstructive Use Ordinance in an effort to alleviate sidewalk congestion by criminalizing pedestrian obstruction.11 Unlike later restrictions, this ordinance did not implicate canvassers' expressive rights, but instead prohibited them from "stacking and storing their distribution materials on sidewalks."12 However, as is evident from the litany of injunctions issued after its passage,13 the Obstructive Use Ordinance failed to prevent pedestrian obstruction.

In 1996, the county made a second legislative attempt to resolve its persistent concerns for pedestrian safety. It patterned the new ordinance after a law previously enacted in Key West, Florida, a tourist community with similar canvassing problems. On its face, the Key West ordinance completely banned all off-premises canvassing in the city's tourist district,14 and, like the Clark County ordinance, it was enacted only after less restrictive efforts had failed. The Key West model was attractive to Clark County's commissioners because it was both demonstrably effective and had survived a First Amendment challenge at the Eleventh Circuit.15

Clark County's version of the ordinance, known as Section 16.12, took effect on January 1, 1997, and made it a misdemeanor to engage in "off-premises canvassing" within the Las Vegas Resort District. …