The New - Old Racket
COMMENTARY: Steve Miller
Las Vegas Tribune
October 23, 2002
There was a time in Vegas history when people had to buy a job as a lowly
bellman. Some paid bell captains as much as $5,000 for a position in a Strip
hotel. The reason? Because the job was so lucrative. Bellmen were known as
being the link between hotel patrons and call girls. The kickbacks were
legendary. Their activity had little or no effect on average Las Vegas
Now, a new job classification has emerged that has extraordinary profit
potential. Who would believe that the humble cab driver would be next to reap
a windfall? However, unlike what once quietly took place in the open at
“Hooker’s nook” in the
old Flamingo and other similar venues, this time profiteering has spilled
over to adversely affect the residents of our town.
The current Taxi Tipping Guide, a service cab drivers find on
VegasCabbie.com, gives the following information about "tips" a driver will
receive for diverting customers to a business: Diamond Cabaret - $20/25; Hot
Bodies Spa - $60; Massage Chinese - $10; Heaven Sent Agency - $100: The
Playpen - $30; Pussycat's - $30; Indulge - $50; Oriental Massage - $10;
Planet Uranis - $40, etc., etc.
In the meantime, local Las Vegas residents who need cab service wonder why it
takes so long?
A revealing memo appears this week on the cabbie website. The writer,
identified as "FN Cabbie" gives us this insight into what the cab driving
profession has degraded into: "How many drivers actually drop off at Hot
Bodies, knowing that it's a 'clip joint?' For those that don't know, the term
clip joint stems from the fact that they basically take the customers money
and 'toss' them out the back door. For instance, customer Bob goes into Hot
Bodies. Bob wants to see a girl, so he pays about $140 to go into a room with
a 'clothed' woman to do some 'exercises.' Mind you, it's a 'health' club.
Now, Bob is enticed by the girl (Editor's note: “hyenas” would be a more
appropriate description of these females) to go 'further' in their work out
session. She tells Bob its going to be X amount of dollars to go 'all the
way' with her. Bob agrees, gives the girl his credit card. While Bob waits in
his room, the girl swipes his card for the agreed price. She comes back to
the room to get Bob to sign for it, just so they can make sure they get
'their' money. The girl then leaves and she says she's going to slip into
something more comfortable. Shortly after the girl has left, 'Big Bouncer'
enters Bob's room and tells him that his time is up. Bob is naturally upset
because he paid for something he didn't get. Big Bouncer replies, 'Sir, don't
you know prostitution is illegal in Clark County.' Then out the door Bob
goes. What's Bob to do? Does he tell the Better Business Bureau? Does he call
the cops? What can the cops do? Bob knows it's illegal to pay for sex in
Clark County. If he tells the cop that he tried paying for sex and got
swindled, the cop will just laugh in his face. How does Hot Bodies stay in
business you might ask? Well, technically they aren't breaking the law. They
aren't selling sex, and there is no way to prove that Bob didn't get exactly
what he paid for, a nice weightlifting session with a woman fully clothed
for, $800. She must be some trainer!"
Another cabbie writes, "We just offer them an entertainer to the room and get
a $100 referral." Still another driver writes, "I dropped 3 guys there
yesterday and thought I'd get $5 a head. When she handed me 45 bucks, I said
Cool! Now I see why this can be lucrative."
But, the most insightful comment came from this driver, "Well here we go
again ... we're gonna get so greedy and cut our own heads off, to hell with
the nose. Don't get me wrong, the money is nice, lord knows I'm a whore to
it. But I don't want to see another lawsuit brought on because one topless
club is trying to beat out another. Please don't divert if you hear another
driver diverting or bragging about diverting SET HIM STRAIGHT!!! We can't
afford to lose this opportunity, remember Christmas is around the corner."
"We've taken in excess of 50 rides, and one out of five rides that we take,
we offered the opportunity for the driver, and they attempted or diverted us
to a specific location." That was the statement of Nevada Taxi Authority (TA)
Administrator John Plunkett when asked if taxi passenger diversion complaints
Plunkett went on to say that cab drivers told his investigators, who were
posing as tourists, that certain topless clubs were closed; a rip off; dirty;
or the girls were ugly, in order to persuade them to go to a club that paid
drivers off. He made those statements in March 2002.
Then four months later, instead of trying to remedy the problem, the TA
abolished the laws that were intended to prevent the practice in the first
It is well documented that locals and tourists often wait hours for a cab
sometimes causing them to miss flights. This is because hundreds of cab
drivers are spending their shifts driving only short distances so they can
receive pay off’s from unscrupulous business owners. Why would a cabbie take
a radio call to pick up a local when he can pick up fares at Strip hotels,
drive two miles and be bribed $40 to $120 for ten minutes of his time?
Mr. Plunkett needs to be reminded that the "Need and Necessity" requirement
of the TA's competition-limiting law says that the need and necessity of ALL
citizens must be provided for, not just those who frequent bribe-paying
The first diversion study took place on January 14, and 15, 2000. It verified
an average of seventy-three cabs per hour dropping off or picking up
passengers from just one topless club, the Crazy Horse Too.
When did the problem surface? A summit conference of sorts took place in
December 1998. Councilman Mike McDonald scheduled the get-together on behalf
of his close friend Rick Rizzolo, owner of the Crazy Horse. In attendance
were a number of owners and managers of adult businesses. The meeting was
intended to address customers being diverted to clubs that were at the time
paying off cabbies up to $20 per passenger. The participants at the meeting
discussed standardizing the amount of money the clubs would pay each taxi
driver per passenger. The group agreed on paying $5 per head. Several months
later, without warning, the Crazy Horse broke rank and openly began bribing
cabbies $10 a head. That's when the bidding war began. Councilman McDonald, a
former policeman, took no action.
Within days, the Crazy Horse's front entrance was crowded with taxies.
Investigative reporter Darcy Spears of KVBC TV News set up a sting and
several drivers were taped diverting passengers to the club. After the
newscast, the Nevada Taxi
Authority did nothing.
The diversion problems worsened and local service became almost nonexistent.
On September 19, 2001, at a special TA hearing on poor service for locals,
citizens from Green Valley and Summerlin complained to the politically
appointed commissioners of waiting for over two hours for service while
dozens of cabs were idling in front of local adult businesses. Their
complaints fell on deaf ears and the "tipping," as the TA likes to call it,
increased to astounding levels.
Crazy Horse Too, Club Paradise, Cheetah's and Olympic Gardens filed suit
against their smaller, more generous competitors accusing them of conspiring
with cab drivers to siphon off business. A District Court Judge granted a
preliminary injunction preventing adult businesses from paying off cab
drivers. In the face of protests, the TA continued calling it “tipping.”
Soon, instead of beefing up enforcement, the TA groveled. The pay off law was
abandoned and the practice (unreported to the IRS) became officially
mislabeled “tipping.” Now, it's the locals who are paying the bill while the
greedy cabbies and sleaze businesses reap the rewards by ripping off tourists
while the Convention Authority and hotels spend millions to bring them here.
Who knows if they will come back after being robbed?
It’s a wonder the IRS hasn't jumped on this cash cow that goes on and on with
no records. In the meantime, the TA commissioners are hiding in the shadows
while millions are exchanged unaccounted for - thousands each night - while
local citizens and unsuspecting tourists pay for the TA’s malfeasance.
Because of their lack of effectiveness, it has been recommended that the TA
be disbanded and cab fares lowered to make up for the savings of the agency's
three million, two hundred thousand dollar operating budget (plus an
undisclosed amount from cabbie fines for offenses other that diverting).
This counterproductive racket is costing a lot more than the Convention
Authority and hotels are spending to entice tourism. With this “skimming”
practice going on in the open, and friends like the TA commissioners, Las
Vegans don’t need any enemies.
Steve Miller is a former Clark County Regional Transportation Commissioner.
Visit his website at: http://www.SteveMiller4LasVegas.com
©1997-2002 Las Vegas Tribune
email Steve Miller at: Stevemiller4lv@aol.com