The Democratic Senate majority leader made the comments before a joint session of the Legislature as brothel owners and lobbyists — and working girls from the rural establishments — looked on from the gallery.
In his autobiography, Reid, a Mormon, wrote about growing up in the mining hamlet of Searchlight, Nev., and learning to swim in the pool at a bordello. His mother took in laundry from the 13 brothels around town.
But when the nation thinks about Nevada, Reid said, "it should think about the world's newest ideas and newest careers — not about its oldest profession."
He received a smattering of applause when he first suggested Nevada outlaw bordellos. By the time he finished with the topic, his remarks were met with silence from the representatives of a state whose identity is woven tightly with gambling, alcohol, quick marriages and prostitution.
Reid, who won re-election to a fifth term in November, focused his speech on job creation efforts in a state facing record joblessness, bankruptcies and foreclosures in the wake of the Great Recession.
"We've recovered in the past and we'll recover in the future," he said. "We've met crisis before and we've prevailed. Winning is what we do. Winning is what we have to do."
Reid drew applause when he said he would work to reform education and pledged to do "everything I can to help ease the burden on state and local school districts." He also spoke against the state's term limit, which he called "destructive," and urged lawmakers to have voters consider a repeal.
Reid also touted renewable energy, saying "the future of our economy depends on it and so does the future of our environment and our national security." He also gave a nod to tourism, saying it "will always be Nevada's biggest industry, but it can't be our only one."
But when it comes to attracting businesses, Reid said, "parents don't want their children to look out of a school bus and see a brothel. Or live in a state with the wrong kind of red lights."
"So let's have an adult conversation about an adult subject," he said.
Brooke Taylor, a prostitute at Bunny Ranch east of Carson City, called Reid's speech "offensive" and said Reid should be proud of the way the state's brothels regulate the sex industry.
"We're the first ones to do it right," Taylor said.
The infamous Mustang Ranch east of Reno was licensed as Nevada's first legal brothel in the early 1970s. Brothels now operate in outlying areas around the state, paying local jurisdictions assorted fees that can be a significant portion of their budgets. They are outlawed in five counties, however, including those encompassing Las Vegas and Reno.
Speaking with reporters afterward, Reid was asked why he was bringing up brothels now. He grew impatient with reporters' incessant questions about prostitution — a small fraction of his speech — and at one point suggested, "It seems to me you guys should get a new life."
Former state archivist Guy Rocha said this was the first time he has heard a U.S. senator ask the Legislature to act on the issue.
"I don't see how brothels are undermining the economy," Rocha said.
Two years ago, brothel owners supported a bill to impose a $5 tax on sex acts, but the measure died in committee.