Lyon County residents submit referendum petition to oust brothels amid tech boom

A sign for Mound House, Nevada as seen on Sept. 1, 2012. (J. Stephen Conn/Courtesy under Creative Commons

By Megan Messerly

A group of Lyon County residents filed a referendum petition Thursday morning to oust legal prostitution from the rural county with the goal of creating a more family-friendly environment to attract tech workers to their communities.

The measure, which needs 3,355 valid signatures from county residents to qualify for the November ballot, would ask Lyon County residents to either uphold or strike down the county’s brothel ordinance, which establishes the framework for licensing houses of prostitution in the county. There are currently four brothels, operated by longtime brothel owner and Assembly candidate Dennis Hof, in unincorporated Mound House, just a few miles east of Carson City.

The petition was submitted by five Lyon County residents — Denise Berumen of Dayton, Heidi Teeter of Fernley, Christopher Turbeville of Dayton, Joseph Johnson of Yerington and John Poundstone of Fernley — who also make up the informal board backing the petition.

Although the board members are active in their local churches to varying degrees, Berumen said the referendum is much broader than a faith-based effort. She said that Lyon County residents feel that their community will be more attractive for employees of tech companies in the area — including Tesla, Google and Switch — without the brothels.

“It’s about caring about what’s going on in our community and just making the community attractive to the people moving in. There’s just so much going on in our area already. We have that huge industrial area going in there at USA Parkway (which leads to the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center) and a lot of people moving into our area,” Berumen said. “It’s hard to make more industry come and more people want to live in our area. You want to make it a positive environment.”

She said the group, which she estimates now has about 50 people interested in helping out, decided to start with a county-level referendum but that they hope to see similar efforts statewide.

Berumen said that about a decade ago, Hof approached her 17-year-old daughter near the high school and later at an under 21 club about working at the brothels. She said that he told her daughter that she moves well and asked if she’d be interested in a job that could make her “good money.”

“It’s just not something I would want any other family to go through. My daughter is a beautiful girl, and when she comes home from school and comes home from an evening when she thinks she’s safe and tells you those things, it’s not okay,” Berumen said.

But Hof said he doesn’t think the brothels are the reason people don’t want to move to Nevada.

“The number one reason people don’t want to come to Nevada is gaming, and then it goes down to infrastructure which we all know, school systems, water,” Hof said. “The brothels is number 17 on that list. I wish these people would educate themselves because it’s not true at all. It’s a part of Nevada culture. It’s been here since the 1850s.”

Backers of the measure believe that the money the county receives in work permits is a wash for the county in terms of the cost of running background checks and processing cards for the sex workers and that the hundreds of thousands of dollars in brothel business license fees that go to the county’s Vehicle Acquisition Fund could be supplemented with grants and other funding for county vehicles.

Hof agrees the work permits are a wash — and that they’re supposed to be — but said that he didn’t think it was feasible for the state to replace lost tax revenue generated by the brothels through grants. He also said the brothels give back in other ways, highlighting fundraising efforts for the Boys and Girls Club, uniforms for the high school marching band and a local dog park.

“We’re very big on giving back to the community,” Hof said. “Without our money they wouldn’t have police cars and numerous other things. We are the big taxpayer.”

Hof also said that in addition to the 500 girls who work at the brothels throughout the year, they also employ an additional 137 employees and worried about what would happen to them if the brothels shut down.

Victim advocate Kimberly Mull, who is helping out with the effort, said that the group plans to put resources together for the workers at the brothels to ensure that they have jobs and other educational opportunities if the ordinance is struck down.

“This isn’t about shaming them,” Mull said. “We want to make sure they have jobs. We’re going to work with businesses and community resources so we can get them to learn new trades or learn new skills or get them into jobs. We consider them a part of our community.”

Supporters of the referendum plan to begin their weekly signature collecting efforts on April 21, which will continue every weekend until the June 15 deadline to qualify the petition for the ballot.

Although the state’s earliest brothels date back to the 19th century, prostitution has been formally regulated in Nevada since 1971. Any county with a population under 700,000 is allowed to license brothels should it so choose.

Prostitution is currently illegal in Clark County, Washoe County, Carson City, Douglas County and Lincoln County. There are 21 legal brothels in Nevada as of February 2018, in Lyon, Nye, Lander, Elko, White Pine, Mineral and Storey counties.

Three of the active brothels in Lyon County, the Love Ranch, Sagebrush Ranch and the Kit Kat Guest Ranch, are clustered together on Kit Kat Drive. Moonlite Bunny Ranch, the subject of the HBO series Cathouse, lies about a mile away on the other side of Highway 50.

Hof is running in an already-tense Republican primary against Assemblyman James Oscarson, although Mull said Oscarson is not involved with the petition effort.

Disclosure: Switch has donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.

16 thoughts on “Lyon County residents submit referendum petition to oust brothels amid tech boom

  • None of the 4 people initiating the petition actually live in Mound House where the brothels are located

    • Kevin Smith

      Why can’t we just leave people alone?
      I have never been in side a brothel but I do know they have helped this community and Lyon County, So when you Church going people say they are not good for a family community then you need to MOVE I am tired of people moving into this County and trying to change the way things are…. You live your live the way you what and let people live the way they what Never was built by gambling and prostitution so leave it alone

      • Kim Barnett

        What have they done to help? Everyone says they bring so many tax dollars to the community. Think of how many business might come here if the brothels werent here.

        If he was so good for the community, why isn’t he putting in curb, gutter, landscaping to build a nicer community . A bridge for the horses or to save lives.

        I for one would like a place where we had some stores and lets face facts. You cant put a school near a brothel. You can’t put a community type business next to a brothel because business owners like Wal-Mart or Penney’s or Home Depot or restaurants do not want to be next to a brothel because it’s not good for business. Most people don’t want to go there. The people that visit brothels and then get drunk and drive aren’t the greatest of people are they? I saw someone today pull out onto the highway in front of several cars coming from the bunny ranch. They almost got hit and caused several people to slam on their brakes. There are always drunk people coming out of there.

        Would you want a school next to a brothel? People think it’s good because many don’t know the difference. It’s bad business. Good for Denis Hof and the gals that work there. They talk about being unemployed. How many people would we really be putting out of work. It’s not like it’s 100’s of people.

        I for one would like to be proud of the community I live in. I’m embarrassed to say I live here. Dayton and moundhouse are the butt of so many jokes. Wouldnt it be nice if we were in a community that looked nice and people wanted to live in? I hate driving through moundhouse because it looks horrible.

        • So, aside from the $500,000 dollar tax money that the brothels pay, they employ around 120 people, the girls buy houses, use store and local services, pay insurance and are a big player in the local economy.
          What you dont realize is the numbers that this petition is showing you are a combined number, to make it look like they dont contribute much, but whats not being shown is the actual spending budget not already allocated and that is where this half a million dollars comes in. Its money they can use where ever the county sees fit.
          Also, as for companies moving here, that is a complete farce. Tesla is located 5 miles from a brothel. so theres that.

    • Dawn N Riggs

      Four (4) Lyon County residents filed this with the assistance of a new PAC led by on person running for assemblyman in Washoe and at least one other with political aspirations.

      This is, by no stretch, a consensus.

  • Russell Greer

    If these idiots get this on the ballot, I plan on filing an injunction, as I am a disabled customer of brothels. If these morons were going after all aspects of the adult entertainment business, then they might have something, but arbitrarily going after one side of the business is dangerous, as it’s all interlinked, according to many studies.

    Would love to know where these pious idiots go to church. Maybe we could find something that can get the churches fined.

    • Kim Barnett

      Why does it have to be a religious thing? It’s an embarrassment to the community.

      • its been here since 1955. How long have you been here? Are the junk yards in this community embarrassing to you as well?

        These facilities have done nothing negative to the community ever.

  • Tony Stephenson

    This is a concerted effort by an out of town group, registered in Reno, to tell folks of Lyon County what should and shouldn’t happen here. Two of the principles of the group are also active in getting the strip clubs in Reno shut down as well. And one of them is on record from his previous campaign as being opposed to all marijuana usage. These folks seem to think we can’t see what’s motivating them. It’s seems to be pretty church based to me.

    • Kim Barnett

      Even if it were church based why would that be bad? What has Denis Hof done for you? I live here and I don’t like it and I’m not affiliated with any religious group, I’d just like to not live in a town that looks so horrible. I’d like some commerce here and no, I’m not from California and I don’t want to take away guns. I grew up in Nevada. Brothers are not the only business that can bring money to our economy.

      • He has put in a dog park, help fund band uniforms for local schools, provide employment for over 100 people. Increase local spending back into the community with over 500 working girls.

        Commerce has nothing to do with the brothels bering here.
        Tesla is 5 miles from a brothel..

  • CJ Gueldner

    One thing to add to this is that it’s no longer just a little group trying to clean up the areas. It is now a bonafide PAC called END TRAFFICKING AND PROSTITUTION (ETAP) and their campaign is called No Little Girl. Next it will be Mustang Ranch, which is an icon in northern Nevada….after they have closed Mustang down (to attract more techie businesses, of which are already there and were built knowing the brothels existed), then they will go after tattoo parlors, pawn shops, liquor licenses, massage parlors and eventually the gaming industry and possibly even after gun sales. All the industries I just mentioned are licensed industries with licensed individuals who go through background checks and pay the fees to the state of Nevada for the priviledge of conducting business n Nevada AND they are regulated and must keep clean establishments or they would be closed down. This group already succeeded in getting the mens’/stripper clubs to be moved in Reno (not shut down like they are demanding in Lyon County). The Reno initiative never went to a vote to the general public….it went straight to the Reno City Counsel. In the case in Lyon County, the group wants the brothels to be CLOSED….not moved. Closing down the brothels in Lyon County is like closing down all of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. No one is considering the financial impact that the state of Nevada as well as Lyon County will experience. I say keep Jason Guinasso and his monkeys out of Lyon County. Let him stay in Reno. Where does it end? So let’s think about this: State business licenses for independent contractors and/or sole proprietors start at $200.00 per year. For a corporation, the fee is much higher than that…….over $600.00. Background checks (depending on the type of business you are in) ranges anywhere from $65.00 to $500.00. Fingerprint cards and / or electronic fingerprinting (again, depending on the type of business) costs anywhere from $50.00 to $200.00. So, when you do the math…..well, lots of money will be lost. Also, some of the prostitutes do have other jobs….some have accounting businesses, some have librarians jobs, and some have teaching jobs…and more. They do it for the economics….to pay their bills, so introducing them to a life of $10.00 an hour jobs….yes, there are a few jobs that will pay more than $10.00/hour, so that they can stay in poverty……………really, honestly. Rent is so high now (, even $15.00 an hour isn’t going to cut it.

    So I ask………when will it end?

    • Kim Barnett

      Personally I’m happy about it. I’d love nothing more than to have them gone. They have no business being in a community that should be geared more toward families.

    • Kim Barnett

      It can’t end soon enough. One has to ask how much money could be made if more businesses came to town and more people wanted a better community.

      Other than some tax dollars that ANY legal business has to pay, what else would we be losing if the brothels were shut down? How do we know we wouldnt gain more than what they bring?

      Stating more and more things would be taken away is a pretty far stretch.

  • Cathy Gustafson

    If prostitution is good enough for the president of the United States it’s good enough for the working Joe, leave the girls alone. Move one people.

    • Kim Barnett

      Sadly that seems like a comment that isn’t very well thought out. A poor analogy at best and not rally funny.


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