Las Vegas lets its visitors get away with a lot. Gambling is legal. Walking down the street drinking a beer is legal. Prostitution is illegal but tolerated. It calls itself Sin City and promises that, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”
Despite this, there are still some things you can’t do in Vegas. Here are eleven odd things the city has banned over the years.
In the middle of downtown Vegas there is a large mall called the Fremont Street Experience. There you can shop for almost anything and give money to the dozens of quirky street performers that are ubiquitous to the site. What you can’t do is Hula-Hoop.
Since many of these independent vendors do not have permits, the city council of Las Vegas has continually tried to crack down on them. But it was the people performing with hula hoops that really irked them. The council claimed that they block pedestrian traffic, thus affecting businesses. As one councilman clarified, "These aren't little Hula-Hoops. They're big Hula-Hoops." (Thankfully, Richard Simmons can continue Hula-Hooping it up elsewhere in Vegas.)
The ban on megaphones was also part of the attempt to ban unlicensed vendors at the Fremont Street Experience. It also included jugglers and Tasers, a ban that became necessary when a Gene Simmons impersonator was caught on video tasering a tourist for no apparent reason.
Instead the council wanted to make two small “free expression” areas. If that sounds like a weird compromise, it is — the bans on these street performers keep getting shot down in court. It has been a 17-year battle that the council can’t seem to win since the courts see such bans as restricting freedom of speech. Or as one unlicensed Elvis impersonator affected by the ban said, “They're a whole bunch of jerks.”
In the end, a watered down ban allowed normal sized hula hoops in certain areas, and some megaphone use. You’re still not allowed to Taser people though, no matter who you are dressed up as.
3. HIP-HOP CONCERTS
In 2005, Sheriff Bill Young called on casinos to ban all hip-hop and gangsta rap artists from performing in Vegas. He cited a number of violent incidents related to such concerts. The Gaming Control Board weighed in, warning the casinos that they would now be held responsible for any “hip-hop-related” violence that occurred on their premises. While the casinos put up a fight publicly, they quietly started canceling concerts featuring rappers, and stopped scheduling future shows as well. Critics of the new policy rightly pointed out that alcohol is responsible for more violence than hip-hop concerts, but no one in Vegas was trying to ban that.
4. LAP DANCES
In 2006, the Nevada Supreme Court decided a case making lap dances in which the patron touched the dancer, or vice versa, illegal. While many strippers argued that they made the majority of their income from lap dancing, and that without any touching they would lose that income, proponents of the ban insisted lap dances were just as enjoyable with no contact. The decision meant that Las Vegas was actually more restrictive about strip club rules than most other states, or as one unnamed stripper put it, "This is considered Sin City, and if Oregon is more sinful than we are, that's weird."
5. PARIS HILTON
Following her 2010 arrest for cocaine possession, the famous-for-being-famous heiress was banned from both of Las Vegas’s Wynn Hotels by the owner, Steve Wynn. The controversial billionaire, who also banned Lil Wayne from the same hotels, eventually recanted and allowed Paris to party at his hotel clubs again a few months ago.
6. FEEDING THE HOMELESS
That same year, the city council banned feeding homeless people in public parks. This was not limited to someone handing their sandwich to a hungry hobo; it also included mobile food kitchens set up by charities. But the ruling raised the question of just how to determine who was truly homeless and who just looked like they might be. Eventually a federal judge ruled the ban unconstitutional.
7. FEEDING THE PIGEONS
This year a proposed ordinance moved to ban feeding pigeons, which Clark County likes even less than homeless people. Calling them “flying rats” in the official proposal, proponents came forward with stories of pigeons destroying roofs and attacking tourists. While a first offense would just result in a warning, ignoring the ordinance could lead to up to six months in jail.
The seemingly innocuous fight over bird feeding became surprisingly political with one resident saying, “Liberal Democrats, I think they’re a menace, too, but no one’s saying we can’t feed y’all.”
When the rest of the world was introduced to the extremely loud and annoying South African noisemaker during the 2010 World Cup, some Las Vegas vendors saw a new retail opportunity. Pretty soon vuvuzelas were showing up at American sports games in large enough numbers to be an issue. The UFC proceeded to ban them at its Vegas events, with the president stating, “This decision was pretty simple. Vuvuzelas make the most horrific sound I've ever heard. I'd rather let [someone] punch me in the face than hear 15,000 people blow on those things.”
9. HOUSE RENTALS
Las Vegas is a 24-hour-a-day party, unless you live off the strip. It turns out residents would prefer that visitors keep their partying out of the suburbs. That’s why the council voted to ban house rentals of less than 30 days. The limit meant month-to-month residential leases would still be an option, but renting a huge house out for a weekend to party with your friends would all but cease.
And officials are serious about this ban. While it was passed in 2010, the ban was only enforced for the first time last week. The homeowner was fined a whopping $29,000.
Just last week the Las Vegas city council approved a year-long ban on pets on the Strip. While people will be allowed to walk their dogs between 5am and noon, the ordinance is intended to keep panhandlers from making dogs stay in one spot for extended periods during hot summer days and to protect tourists from being bitten, as a California man was last year. As one blog noted, while pets may be gone, “party animals [are] still allowed.”
11. BATH SALTS
This year Las Vegas’s Pharmacy Board joined a growing list of cities and states banning the use of some bath salts. These salts, while officially for bathing, have narcotic-like side effects of euphoria when they are ingested, injected, snorted, or smoked. They also have the downside of often landing users in the emergency room with heart palpitations or in the midst of psychotic episodes. Perhaps fittingly, one of the names the salts are sold under is “Charley Sheene.”