"An awful lot of our customers are truckers," George Flint, director of the Nevada Brothel Owners' Association, said. "It's the disposable income factor: Money for new wristwatches and getting laid just isn't there."
In rural southern Nevada towns such as Indian Springs, some 50 miles north of Las Vegas, diesel fuel is selling for $5.25 a gallon, Flint said. This means that fueling an 18-wheeler can now cost an independent trucker more than $1,000.
Revenue at the 25 legal bordellos in the association is down 25-45 percent, depending on the location.
"We used to say Nevada was immune from recession," Flint said. "Not any more."
A law from the 1970s prohibited Nevada's legal brothels from advertising outside the immediate areas in which they were located, so tourists entering Las Vegas and Reno were not exposed to ads for the legal brothels outside the county line.
That law was struck down in federal court last July, when a challenge filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several brothels and local newspapers arguing First Amendment protection for commercial speech was upheld, but many brothel owners are worried that ads will enrage local communities and push the Legislature to ban legal brothels.
"We're second-class citizens," said Jeff Arnold, owner of Donna's Ranch in Battle Mountain. "It's foolish to put up billboards that only irritate more than they attract."
"Several of the people who run brothels thought it would be this horrible thing that would happen," said ACLU lawyer Allen Lichtenstein, who persuaded the federal court to reverse the ban. "But from the government, the silence is deafening."
The government may be silent because Nevada is now facing a $1 billion budget shortfall. Gaming revenue in the state is down. MGM Mirage's stock price has dropped by half, sliding from $99.75 last October to $50. And at Harrah's Las Vegas casinos such as Caesars Palace, Rio and Bally's, gaming revenue among VIP and avid-use customers is down 5 percent and revenues from retail and unrated customers is down 8 percent so far this year according to Harrah's spokesman Gary Thompson.
Wild Horse Adult Spa and Mustang Ranch general manager Susan Austin purchased eight billboards along various highways in and around the city of Sparks that declare, "The party's at the Wild Horse!"
"We do have a moral responsibility to the wider world," said Ms. Austin, a former prostitute herself. "I wouldn't want my children to see something inappropriate. But these [billboard ads] are just little cartoon horses."
Other brothel owners are doing marketing like operating casino-style VIP programs that comp frequent customers and offering free buffets and barbecues for truckers and other passersby.
"We market Donna's as a home away from home for truckers," Arnold said. "There's always free chili, ham and beans, and corn bread. And they respond to it. We'll hold a barbecue, and they're the ones who are flipping the burgers."
The strategy for Donna's Ranch is sponsorship marketing rather than overt advertising. His second Donna's Ranch, in Wells, is the major sponsor of the town's car show and is the secondary sponsor of its senior pro rodeo.
Other Nevada brothels, such as Dennis Hof's Moonlight Bunny Ranch, have gotten free exposure through mainstream exposure: the Bunny Ranch has been featured on HBO's reality series "Cathouse" since 2005.