Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie has police meeting with owners of a handful of companies that ply the sidewalks in front of the area’s marquee resorts seeking customers for female “direct to you” entertainers. Police are imploring the businesses to voluntarily address complaints about aggressive card distributors, pedestrian traffic congestion and litter.
In return, police are promising to better train officers about the rights of pamphleteers, and to tell hotel security chiefs about the voluntary agreements.
“People don’t have to like what we do, but they can talk to us about how we do it,” Vincent Bartello, owner of the largest company, Hillsboro Entertainment, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We want to be good neighbors.”
The battle against handbill distributors on the Strip stretches back to the 1990s, when the Clark County Commission banned handout distribution of commercial pamphlets and other material.
With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, Bartello and another ad company owner sued. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco questioned the measure’s constitutionality, and commissioners tried revising it.
U.S. District Judge Lloyd George in Las Vegas again declared the rule unconstitutional in 2008.
ACLU lawyer Allen Lichtenstein said the decade-long legal fight only wasted time, energy and money.
Despite court rulings that Strip sidewalks are public thoroughfares where free speech is protected by the First Amendment, handbillers were targeted by police and hotel security guards, said Bartello, who’s been in business 17 years.
Police, meanwhile, reported getting complaints about aggressive pamphleteers shoving handbills at families, crowding crosswalks and leaving sidewalks covered in litter.
Gillespie said he considered reaching out to Lichtenstein as an intermediary with handbilling companies after a meeting with Steve Wynn earlier this year.
“I told them I wanted to work with them,” Gillespie said. “Maybe we could find some common ground.”
Capt. Todd Fasulo, commander of the Las Vegas Convention Center area including the Strip, became the point man for the police effort that now covers about 140 of the roughly 200 pamphleteers who line Las Vegas Boulevard daily. Most offer passers-by cards bearing images of half-naked woman for hire as entertainers.
Fasulo emphasized the importance of working together to create a pleasant environment for tourists.
The four companies taking part have helped shape voluntary rules to keep handbill distributors 20 feet from crosswalks; to prevent them from trying to hand material to people who look younger than 25; to have distributors refrain from whistling or snapping cards or pamphlets; and to pick up litter.
Another rule is to hand materials to people at torso level.
“If they want it, they take it,” Fasulo said. “If not, they shouldn’t have someone shoving it in their face.”
On a recent evening, a Review-Journal reporter found most pamphleteers on a sidewalk outside Harrah’s and the Flamingo abiding by the new rules, while a worker from Hillsboro swept up discarded pamphlets on the sidewalk.
Fasulo said officials want every leaflet company to participate, and Bartello and Lichtenstein said the county and hotels should be involved too.
County Commissioner Steve Sisolak called the effort a step in the right direction.
“Those issues are getting bigger and bigger,” Sisolak said. “We have to do something, and that’s a good place to start.”