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Drugs and Rock'n'Roll in Las Vegas

History of Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll in Las Vegas


Las Vegas calls to mind The Strip with its glowing neon lights, the whirl and whir of slot machines, the bump of dice on green felt, showgirls’ high kicks and succulent meals. But, beyond the shiny, happy exterior lies a Las Vegas of the proverbial sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Those who live and work in Las Vegas tend to avoid The Strip. They enjoy their neighborhoods and the periphery of the wild life. Visitors to Vegas though seem to crave a mythical experience that lets them party like a rock star while in town, at least the rock star lifestyle that the tabloids cover.

Although Las Vegas and Clark County legally ban prostitution, it still exists. Other counties in Nevada allow prostitution and the state remains home to some of the most famous brothels to exist. One such example, the infamous Chicken Ranch, has been immortalized in articles, books, documentaries, and Hollywood movies. It’s arguably the most famous of Nevada’s 24 licensed brothels. Another well known Nevada brothel, Sheri’s Ranch, just outside of Las Vegas, received a notable feature in the October 2015 issue of fashion magazine Cosmopolitan. The longest running Nevada brothel, in Elko, opened in 1902. According to Nevada law, brothels may locate in counties with a population below 700,000. This means no legal brothels exist in Las Vegas, Reno or Carson City. In 1937, Nevada passed a law requiring weekly health exams of all prostitutes. In 1986, the state added a requirement for mandatory HIV testing. It added a mandatory condom law in 1988. It didn’t require a urethral exam until 2009. The state made the inclusion specifically to expand the law for male prostitutes.

Customers spend nearly 66 times more money on illegal prostitution in the state than legal, says Wikipedia. It seems tourists see illicit sex as an integral part of the Vegas experience. That means they miss out on the safety precautions and testing required of legal prostitutes working in brothels.

While the rest of the country may try to keep its drug use under wraps, tourists seem to lose this attitude when the time for a Vegas trip approaches. Reddit and the forums for some online casinos feature threads started by tourists looking to score drugs while on vacation. Cocaine garners the most mentions. Discussants quickly point out that they aren’t addicts and don’t regularly do drugs, hence the need for advice. Perhaps they’re not looking in the right place. The entertainment website provides a primer straightforwardly titled, “Doing Drugs in the New Las Vegas Hotels: A Beginner’s Guide.” Obviously, drug use has become a ubiquitous part of a Vegas vacation.

A quick survey of commonly abused controlled substances in Nevada discussed on, includes the mundane ecstasy, cocaine, and heroin you hear about on episodes of “CSI,” the odd ball ritalin, and the more unusual anabolic steroids. Wait. Anabolic steroids? Yes. Las Vegas plays home to a huge fight scene including professional boxing and mixed martial arts. It’s a main fight hub for the UFC. So, maybe UFC fighter Nick Diaz, a regular visitor to Vegas, is right when he quips, “All you m*therf*ckers are on steroids… All of you are on steroids.” regarding his competition.

Although Las Vegas is better known for its lavish shows featuring buxom, leggy showgirls, it claims its fair share of rock’n’roll, too. The band INXS immortalized Sin City in its song, “Pretty Vegas,” a bouncy tune about the Vegas party scene. Its homage centers on copious consumption of alcohol and the abundance of loose women. The song accurately depicts a night in the wild casino city.

Sin City has drawn a few famous faces from the music mecca of LA, too. You might run into one of rock’n’roll’s and Las Vegas’ entertainment founding fathers, Wayne Newton. He began the tradition of musicians in residence at a casino and the practice of fans tossing their underwear on stage. On the harder side of rock, Motley Crue lead singer Vince Neil relocated to Vegas. He jumped into business there, founding the Off The Strip Poker Tournament, opening a nightclub, and producing his own tequila brand. You’ll see the rap world represented here, too. Public Enemy founder Flavor Flav moved here and for a time, ran a restaurant, House of Flavor, specializing in fried chicken. He’s refocused his career, appearing in various reality TV shows.

Sin City has hosted rock’n’roll tragedy, too. Sometimes, the sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll come together in a bad way. That’s what happened on June 27, 2002 in room 858 of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. That’s when rock’n’roll legend, John Entwistle, the bassist for The Who, died from a cocaine induced heart attack. Stripper/groupie Alycen Rowse woke to find him dead. She had spent the night with him to celebrate the kick off of the band’s 2002 United States tour. The first concert was scheduled for the following day. He was 57.

While New York City wins the title for the city that never sleeps and San Francisco stands in memory as the city by the bay, Las Vegas wins for debauchery. Although Los Angeles and Seattle play home to the rock’n’roll scene, it is Las Vegas to which the world travels to live and epitomize, if only for a few days, the edict, “sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll.”