La. Legislators Look to Impose Regulations on Strip Clubs

Slav Kandyba
NEW ORLEANS — Pushed by the religious right, Louisiana legislators are considering imposing regulations that could potentially drain lap dance revenue from strip clubs across the state.

According to a report in New Orleans City Business, Louisiana Family Forum’s lobbying recently yielded a bill proposed by Sen. John Smith, R-Leesville, that called for a six-foot buffer between dancers and customers.

The bill didn’t get enough votes to make it out of the state’s Senate Commerce Committee, but the forum said it plans to press its cause. And, according to City Business, “people on both sides agree it will pass by a wide margin if it comes up for a full vote.”

State Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, voted against the bill because he thought it was too broad and strip clubs should be regulated at the community level. He received a call from a priest, who apparently was notified via alert from the forum.

Few politicians would withstand that kind of moral pressure, and that is one of the goals of the Forum, Robert Watters, owner of Rick’s Cabaret in New Orleans, he said.

To advance his cause, Watters has formed an association of club operators in the French Quarter to combat attempts to shut them down. A club operator since 1983, when he took over a business dominated by biker gangs and plagued with crime, he said he has cleaned up the industry’s image.

“We were the first topless club to focus on attracting businessmen as customers and that helped us attract a higher class of dancers,” he told City Business. “We were the first to charge a cover and put management on salary. We drug test our employees, and if we find anyone doing anything illegal they’re terminated.”

That may not prove to be enough as some view strip clubs as havens for obscenity and catalysts for crime. Pushed by religious group Citizens for Community Values, Ohio last year banned all forms of contact between strippers and their customers.

This resulted in a 30 percent to 80 percent revenue loss for club operators, forcing many to close, Angelina Spencer, executive director of the National Association of Club Executives, a trade association for adult nightclubs, he said.

Mark Wilson, president of the French Quarter Business Association, said he didn’t think the proposed regulations were a good idea.

“Part of me would like to not have as many gentlemen clubs proliferating in the French Quarter to extent they have, but it’s free enterprise at work,” Wilson said. “And Bourbon Street has always had a certain mystique. You can’t take that away by imposing this kind of legislation on businesses without it hurting the city.”