Strip clubs have been popular for a long time, as a character in a 1681 English comedy requested some striptease entertainment. Later, Las Vegas strippers found a special home in that rowdy frontier town.
Strip clubs were then called “gentlemen’s clubs” or, less euphemistically, “strip joints.” The earliest Las Vegas strip clubs were nothing like the sophisticated night clubs of later years. A visitor described one as “ramshackle.” On entering, he paid a huge cover charge and was led across a dark, dingy interior. He was then met by a large woman with a missing tooth who offered to dance with him for another fat fee.
However, entrepreneurs recognized that men would pay for this entertainment, and began to think that, if they made the strip joints more attractive, they could make no end of money. Some restaurants and supper clubs even began to add strippers to the fare. Another way strip clubs attracted customers was by providing gaming. After all, it is Las Vegas. The Topless Girls of Glitter Gulch, a downtown strip club, was the first to apply for a gaming license.
Some Las Vegas strippers have even become famous. One of them was Annie Ample, who was the highest-paid member of her craft in the 1980s at $5,000 a week. The 5’8″ Annie was born Karen Ann Bell in San Diego. She studied theater and dance early and, attracted by its glitz and glamour, accepted a movie role in Las Vegas. Annie spent the rest of her career there and went on to appear in several movies as well as stripping. Although publicity stunts kept her constantly in the news (she insured her breasts for $1 million), she took performing seriously and worked hard at it. Later, Annie gave up performing and moved to rural Nevada, where she lived quietly, passing away in 2008.
Nowadays, Las Vegas strippers still have plenty of opportunities because casinos, strip clubs and topless entertainment have merged in many instances. A modern attraction, meant to appeal to European tourists, is topless pools. In 1998, Caesar’s Palace was the first to add one. In 2008, Sapphires Gentlemen’s Club and the Rio Hotel joined to provide topless Las Vegas strippers poolside at the hotel; the strippers get free food and drinks to advertise Sapphires. A similar arrangement has been made between Rick’s Cabaret and the Hard Rock Casino. They’re combining to create an ultimate bachelor pad.
Las Vegas has always walked a fine line between providing entertainment and controlling vice. It’s made more difficult by the fact that Las Vegas strippers are independent contractors and hard to regulate. Laws generally apply to the strip clubs rather than to the strippers. Strip clubs bring huge amounts of money into the town, and officials are not motivated to over-regulate them.
The history of strip clubs will no doubt go on for a long time yet, and they’ll continue to present entertaining shows and make plenty of money.