What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas?

Las Vegas: glaring lights, water fountain shows, kitsch marriage chapels, loud music, shrill shapes, half-naked people, the smell of alcohol, mountains of bank notes, the noise of slot machines, the shuffling of cards and the moaning of losers. The Strip overflows with people. At the heart of it all, you see hundreds of thousands of people wearing shirts emblazoned with the names and numbers of various players of the Kansas Chiefs or San Francisco 49ers. Around two months ago, the 58th Superbowl was held in the vast metropolis of Las Vegas, Nevada. Or “Sin City”, as it is also known: casinos, parties, alcohol and strip clubs are part of everyday life here, and as a result, its crimes as well. The focus of this blog is on the human trafficking which happens in Las Vegas, the sexual exploitation, and how the sporting event of the year influences levels of demand and supply. 

Las Vegas hasn’t actually existed for very long – the city was once no more than a sparse oasis out in the desert. It wasn’t until the 1920s and ‘30s that its residents began building a city, essentially out of nothing. Streets, green spaces, schools and official buildings were magicked out of the ground. It was also then that the first hotels, casinos and marriage chapels began to spring up, which would eventually attract the first tourists, gamblers and spontaneous loving couples. These aspects of the city remain its most famous landmarks and attractions to this day. Around 100 years later, the desert city is one of the most important tourist destinations in the United States. In 2023, Las Vegas welcomed approximately 40.8 million tourists. The business of gambling is also booming more than ever, now generating revenue of almost 13.5 billion dollars. 

Las Vegas officially reported around 23,000 crimes, making it one of the most dangerous cities in America, including damage to property, violence, murder, drugs, money-laundering and human trafficking. The legal situation surrounding prostitution in Nevada is bizarre – in ten of the 17 counties, prostitution is legal. This law covers not only the sexual act, but also the procurement and arrangement of prostitution. The term covers any kind of sexual favours performed for a counter-payment. As a result, Nevada is the only US state where brothels can be operated legally. Although Las Vegas, which is located in Clark County, falls under the seven where prostitution is a crime, more than 4,000 sex workers a month advertised their services on the website “Backpage”.

Despite the fact that the Backpage site was responsible for more than 80 percent of the online advertising of sexual services, it was taken offline by the authorities. According to the organisation “Awaken” , Nevada has the highest number of women and children working in the sex market – at any one time, 5,000 women and girls are being sold online in Nevada. With 201 cases (2021), the state is in the top ten nationwide for reported cases of human trafficking – even though the real figure is probably far higher. 

The Superbowl is the annual final of the American football season, and the biggest greatest sporting event of the year, attracting not just hundreds of thousands of fans, but also the greats of Hollywood. The event is connected with huge revenue – tickets for the game, flights, hotels, food, going out, clothing, fan merchandising and much more. Over the Superbowl weekend, around 450,000 people travelled to Las Vegas, generating revenue of around 1.1 billion dollars. The city also wants to offer those tourists and stars the weekend of their lives, of course, so the consumption of alcohol, gambling, sex and prostitution are romanticised.

One strip club offered Travis Kelce and his girlfriend Taylor Swift a free “Topless Touchdown Celebratory Package” if he won the Superbowl. This package included, amongst other things, 50,000 dollars in pocket money, a Champagne parade, access to a suite and limousine, as well as life-long VIP membership of the club, including unlimited lap dances free of charge. Another strip club told a family that Friday was “Family Night”. Large numbers of dancers also advertised for jobs, in order to cash in. This also fills the pockets of pimps, who earn up to 200,000 dollars a year per girl. It was hoped the amount of demand that needed to be satisfied would be high, which also increased supply at the “establishments”. In the week of the Superbowl alone, the police investigated over 400 cases connected with human trafficking. These led to 411 arrests for crimes including unlawful entry, procuring and arranging prostitution, purchasing sex and human trafficking. The number is twice as high as the annual figure for reported cases nationwide.  

Translated by Tim Lywood

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