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Oscar B. Goodman

Oscar B. Goodman

February 13, 2006
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" We have turned vice into virtue "

A few years ago, city lawmakers urged Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B. Goodman to crack down on the legendary Crazy Horse Too, where they claimed prostitution was taking place. Instead, the mayor proposed the strip club be allowed to expand. Goodman also led an effort to lower the legal age for Vegas strippers from 21 to 18, figuring the city should "not make some big fuss as to what some 18-year-old girl is doing to make a living."

All of this and a proud habit of swilling gin and escorting Playboy Playmates around town has made Goodman America's favorite bad boy politician. And at a time when California lawmakers talk about enacting new regulations on the adult film industry, Goodman's actions have fueled speculation he might be gearing up to lure one of the San Fernando Valley's biggest economic engines to Las Vegas.

"We're an adult community, an adult playland," Goodman said not long ago. "Let's not pretend to be something we're not. I think anything that's legal should be here."

The mayor's position is good news for folks at the Free Speech Coalition, the adult industry's lobbying arm.

"He's very industry friendly," Tom Hymes, spokesman for the FSC, said of Goodman.

Hymes said he hadn't heard talk of a mass industry decampment to Las Vegas — "most people are looking [to move] out of the country," he said. But he added, "there's always talk [in California] about regulation and some people have looked to Vegas because there's land and it's cheap."

The adult industry has always been a part of Las Vegas' fabric. But industry officials have tended to regard Sin City the way the rest of the Los Angeles population did, as a place to play. The studios and factories that churn out thousands of DVDs, dildos and the like are all based in the San Fernando Valley, and more recently, the vast cheap desert Inland Empire, east of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles politicians have never had an easy relationship with one of the city's biggest economic engines.

"This city is too diverse and, believe it or not, too conservative for our politicians to be seen as close to that industry," said an advisor to several Los Angeles mayors, including Antonio Villaraigosa.

The political operative, who asked not to be named because he, too, doesn't want to be associated with the adult industry, pointed to the San Fernando Valley's struggle for independence. "The porn companies could have benefited from a Valley municipality and the secessionists certainly could have used their money. But it was untenable."

Sin City's Image
Las Vegas, on the other hand, was built by mobsters who rolled dice with one hand and held onto their favorite pinup with the other. Now, after an experiment with "family-friendly" entertainment that lasted about as long as Larry Flynt's born again Christian phase, Las Vegas has re-embraced its sinful ways. Any doubts about that were put to rest in 2005.

The year began with the starry opening of Club Vivid at The Venetian. Then, in May, Goodman became the first politician to be a guest photographer for Playboy.com. He took about 20 shots of Russian beauty Irina Voronina, Miss January 2001. Goodman ended the year by posing with models for the 2006 Playboy swimsuit calendar.

Goodman, a former criminal defense lawyer who grew rich and famous representing some of Las Vegas' most notorious mobsters, is successfully diversifying the Las Vegas economy. While the casinos took in more than $10 billion in revenue in 2004, gambling accounted for roughly 44 percent of the city's revenue, down from 65 percent just a decade ago.

"It used to be that if you came here for three days, you'd spend eight hours a day or more gambling," Alan Feldman, MGM Mirage vice president, said. "Now, if you spend four hours total at the tables and spend the rest of the time shopping and eating, that wouldn't be unusual."

Vice Into Virtue?
Since becoming mayor five years ago, Goodman has lured in high-end shopping boutiques, world-class restaurants and nightclubs. Now he's trying to attract a medical research facility and a Major League baseball team. The adult industry figures heavily into Goodman's plans, observers say.

"We have turned vice into virtue," Hal K. Rothman, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and author of "Neon Metropolis," said.

Goodman has fueled his economic revitalization with generous tax incentives and swaths of cheap desert land.

The mayor — who proudly bets on everything from sports events to the misfortunes of his fellow elected officials — seems to be winning this wager. Last year, Las Vegas attracted 37 million visitors, surpassing Mecca, Saudi Arabia, as the world's Number One tourist attraction. Las Vegas also is the nation's fastest-growing metropolitan area.

Not everybody is happy about what Goodman is doing.

Steve Miller, a former Las Vegas councilman and a persistent critic of the mayor, said what Goodman is doing "is immoral."

"Goodman welcomes everything that's distasteful elsewhere to come our city," Miller said. "With his lack of scruples, it would not surprise me to see him welcome porn studios to Las Vegas. Why not? He condones everything else that's legal without regard for public health and safety."

Goodman's response to his critics? "Get a life."

The voters seem to agree with the mayor. In 2003, a whopping 86 percent of them agreed the 65-year-old Goodman should be returned to City Hall for a second four-year term. Now there's talk of him running for governor.


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