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John L. Smith: Sex, Drugs And ... Day Clubs?


Pool party at Hard Rock Hotel

The Strip’s popular nightclubs and day clubs are big moneymakers.

But from time to time, they get into trouble with the Gaming Control Board for allegations of everything from illegal drug use to sex trafficking.

John L. Smith isn't a club-goer but knows the value of these clubs to the casino business and just how watchful Gaming Control has become over them.

"Remember, of course, it's a licensed privileged industry," he said, "And people can create violations by not paying enough attention to what's going on on their own property."

But it is usually not the casino company that owns and operates the clubs, they're usually owned and operated by a company that specializes in operating nightclubs. 

That will not exempt a casino operator from fines if Metro Police finds illegal activity going on.

But Smith admits it is a difficult industry to regulate because of the basic nature of the Las Vegas Strip.

"The nature of the Strip is - let's face it - the message we send the world is, let's party, anything goes... we do a lot of winking on the Strip about what goes and what doesn't go. It has always been a line that people have had to dance on here," he said.

Smith quipped that a nightclub in Las Vegas is not a junior high dance. Adults are here to have a good time doing adult things.

But those adult activities have in the past lead to problems like drug use, including in the 90s when there were some high profile overdoses.

Nowadays, the problem is marijuana. The drug is legalized in the state, but not allowed in Strip casinos. Smith said the nightclubs must walk a fine line. The solution he believes is consumption lounges, but those have not been legalized yet either.

"The idea that you cross the line and all of the sudden gambling is the church. That's where all the clean living is going on and the party stops when you enter a casino if you happen to use marijuana recreationally. It just seems dumb," he said. 

Besides drug use, there have also been accusations of pimps using clubs as a headquarters for their operations.

That was behind a deadly shooting and fiery car crash on the boulevard a few years ago. A dispute between two pimps caused one to shoot into the other's car, causing it to crash into a cab. Two people in the cab were killed and the man who was shot also died.

No matter what the potential issues are at nightclubs and dayclubs, Smith observes that as soon as they're not profitable anymore -- they'll be replaced by something that will make money 


Smith also thinks the announced closure of the Hard Rock for eight months next year for remodeling has the chance to bring back younger customers that made the Hard Rock the place to go when it opened in 1995.

"There is no question in my mind that what [Richard] Branson has on his hands is a potential really big winner," he said.

Smith said that the billionaire entrepreneur keeps with the Las Vegas tradition of being a strong personality with an eye for innovation. He thinks recasting the Hard Rock Hotel as a Virgin resort will be a winner for a property that had fallen out of step over the years.


A real estate broker for CBRE Group, John Knott, died last week of pancreatic cancer. Knott had been behind some of the biggest property deals on the Strip. He appeared on KNPR's State of Nevada several times.

Smith knew Knott. He called him "smart as a whip" but unpretentious and friendly. 

"People I know in the gaming industry, who knew him well, trusted him. They trusted his word. They trusted his knowledge," he said.

John L. Smith, contributor, State of Nevada

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