Las Vegas tries to clean up X-rated litter

Some tourists try to dissuade them by directing icy glares their way. Others  stare, zombie-like, into the Las Vegas Strip’s ubiquitous video screens and  light displays in an effort to ignore the pushy handbill distributors.

But some tourists accept the pamphlets and glossy cards that advertise  all-but-nude exotic dancers. Then, more often than not, they toss the material  in the trash. Or if a trash can isn’t nearby, onto the sidewalk — creating an  endless X-rated litter problem that Las Vegas officials are now trying to clean  up.

A new ordinance requires handbillers to pick up litter within a 25-foot  (7.5-meter) radius on the sidewalk. But there’s a hitch: The law might run afoul  of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech.

“If someone takes some material, regardless of what it is, and then walks  down the street and decides to drop it, that’s the person who is littering.  That’s the person that is responsible, not the person who gave it to them  originally,” said Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the Nevada American  Civil Liberties Union.

Las Vegas police aren’t enforcing the ordinance yet. The ACLU has been  meeting regularly with the exotic dancer businesses and police to talk about how  that will happen, as well as encourage handbillers to help keep the Strip clean.  The group has not yet challenged the law in court.

Meanwhile, handbillers — they’re also called “card-slappers” for the noise  they make to get people’s attention — are as in-your-face as ever.

“They’re totally annoying,” John Marquez, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, said on a  recent evening. “I pretty much take them and toss them in the first garbage can  I see.”

One card he’d just grabbed near the Monte Carlo advertised a nearly nude  woman named “Giesele” and a “$35 Special” but offered no other details on what  the deal involved.

The legions of handbillers on the Strip on any given day include about 25 who  work the Strip for Hillsboro Entertainment. They hand out some 50,000 handbills  a week, according to the company’s owner, Vincent Bartello.

Sure, he could probably get the law overturned, he said. He doesn’t want  to.

“We’re not actually littering. It’s the tourists, the people who come here.  But if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here. And I want to be able to make  something better for them,” Bartello said.

Hillsboro Entertainment always has picked up after itself, he added. And his  dancers absolutely are not prostitutes.

“We do not condone that. We send out dancers, entertainers, to entertain for  customers that call,” he said.

Prostitution is legal in most of rural Nevada but illegal in metropolitan  areas like Las Vegas and Reno. Still, the sex trade flourishes in Sin City.

Las Vegas tried directly to prohibit handbilling in 1997. The ACLU intervened  in court and won. Subsequent court rulings have established that sidewalks along  the Strip are public thoroughfares where the First Amendment protects freedom of  speech, Lichtenstein said.

Lately, rather than keep going after the handbillers, Clark County has been  focused on a clean-up-the-Strip effort that also will examine where to put trash  cans and whether handbillers are impeding pedestrian flow in some areas.

“People are having to wade their way through some of that stuff,” Clark  County Manager Don Burnette said.

To Lichtenstein, how police will enforce a law that requires handbillers to  clean up their area no less than every 15 minutes is an obvious problem.

“I’m not sure the police even understand what they’re supposed to be  enforcing,” he said. “Depending on what happens, we may be back in court  again.”

Police Capt. Todd Fasulo said the law is straightforward and, as with any  crime, enforcement will be a matter of police priorities.

At least one visitor was more concerned about the use of so much paper than  the sultry images being thrust at her husband.

“It’s a waste of trees,” said John Marquez’s wife, Kaye. “There’s got to be a  better way to do advertising.”

Or how about recycling? Last time they were in Vegas, they collected dozens  of exotic dancer cards and stuffed them into birthday gift bags for friends back  home.

“They thought it was hilarious,” she said.

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