Nevada brothel entices visitors with free petrol

Rising fuel costs in the United States means that fewer clients are willing to make the long drive to the middle of the desert

In an era of economic uncertainty and sky-rocketing fuel prices, America's long-distance lorry drivers can finally offset some of the increased cost of life on the open road – by filling up with what headline writers are calling "whore-star" petrol.

Nevada's legalised brothels, for years a favourite pit-stop for lonely truckers and travelling salesmen, have started offering free fuel vouchers to customers who are prepared to continue paying for sex, despite the wallet-sapping effects of the global oil crisis. At the Shady Lady Ranch, 30 miles north of the desert town of Beatty, visitors who mention the "July special" are being given cards that entitle them to anything from $50 to $150 worth of petrol at any Arco filling station.

"We're 150 miles from Las Vegas, in the middle of the Nevada desert, and so everybody has to drive to get here," said Bobbi Davis, the ranch's "madame", who co-manages the property with her husband, Jim. "I saw local hotels and motels giving people fuel cards, and thought, 'If they can do it why not us?' So we started giving $50 back to people who book an hour's party with one of the girls, which costs $300, and $100 back to those who buy a two-hour party for $500.

"It's been a real success. So much so that we've actually had to reorder cards three times. All of them have been going to new customers who weren't coming here before. I can think of only one long-standing patron who hasn't benefited, so it's certainly bringing us new trade."

The venue, which has a "French provincial" theme, as well as a room modelled on a Japanese geisha house, has been facing industry-wide difficulties ever since truck drivers, travelling salesmen and the tourist trade began to be affected by higher fuel costs earlier this year.

"We get a lot of trade from people travelling south from Washington State and Oregon to Arizona and New Mexico, and the occasional tourist from Death Valley, which is about 21 miles away," said Mrs Davis. "It's not that those people aren't still on the road. Most of them still make those trips. But the price of petrol has hit their disposable income, and left them less money to spend at places like ours."

Like many of Nevada's licensed brothels, the Shady Lady relies on blue-collar workers as its core clientele. Its internet site claims: "While others cater to the high rollers, we think it's about time that someone provided great service to the average working man."

According to Mrs Davis, two other brothels near Beatty, the Cottontail Ranch and Angela's Ladies, have been forced out of business. "Our rivals refused to adapt," she said. "They've stuck to what they've traditionally done and refused to think outside the box. My position is that if your business is starting to fail, you either have to change, or watch it go down the tube."

The Shady Lady has a reputation for representing the acceptable face of Nevada's licensed brothels. It has eight full-time prostitutes, and is famed for the red, heart-shaped hot tub which has helped it to win "best small brothel of the year" six times in succession at the Nevada Sex Awards. Mrs Davis is also politically active and has been spearheading a legal campaign aimed at reforming a law which bans brothels from advertising. She claims the legislation is a violation of the first and 14th amendments of the US constitution, governing free speech.

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