Nevada is the only state in the United States where prostitution is legal. However, even in Nevada, it is not legal everywhere. Under current law, legalizing prostitution is at the option of the county, but this depends on the population of the county. Prostitution is not legal in counties with 700,000 or more residents. As of May 2017, only Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, exceeds this limit, with a population of 2 million as of 2014.
Prostitution is also illegal in Washoe County, which includes Reno, along with Lincoln and Douglas counties and the independent city of Carson City, the capital of Nevada, as of May 2017.
Legal Prostitution in Nevada
Prostitution is legal only at licensed and regulated brothels in counties that have allowed it. Registered prostitutes must be tested weekly for gonorrhea and chlamydia trachomatis and monthly for HIV and syphilis. Condoms must always be used. If a customer becomes infected with HIV after a sex worker tests positive, the brothel owner can be held liable. Streetwalking and other forms of sex for money are illegal everywhere in Nevada, just as it is in every other state.
Brief History of Legal Prostitution in Nevada
Brothels have existed in Nevada since the 1800s. For years, the locations of brothels were basically regulated by using public nuisance laws, enabling local authorities to shut them down when they managed to declare them as such.
Both Reno and Las Vegas cleared out their red light districts using this tactic. The infamous Joe Conforte, the former owner of the Mustang Ranch brothel in Storey County just east of Reno, persuaded county officials to pass an ordinance licensing brothels and prostitutes in 1971, thus removing the threat of being shut down as a public nuisance, and unfettered legal prostitution in Nevada dates to that year.
State law has evolved to where it is now a county option whether or not to allow licensed brothels to operate. Incorporated cities within counties allowing prostitution can further regulate brothels or ban them if they so choose.
Legal Brothels and Illegal Prostitution
As of May 2017, 12 of Nevada's 16 counties and one independent city allowed regulated and licensed brothels, even if there were no brothels in some of those counties. But state officials estimated in 2013 that there were 30,000 prostitutes in Las Vegas, where prostitution is illegal, reports the New York Daily News. Linda Chase, in the book "Picturing Las Vegas," writes that the U.S. State Department reported in 2007 that there was nine times more illegal prostitution in Nevada than legal and that 90 percent of prostitution occurs in Las Vegas.