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Strip Club Laws and the Regulation of Sexually Oriented Business

If you are planning to open a sexually oriented business (SOB), such as a strip club or an adult video store, you should be aware of zoning laws, alcohol restrictions, and other regulations unique to SOBs. For instance, local strip club laws typically prohibit such businesses from locating near schools or churches, while some ban complete nudity or the sale of alcohol. Since they vary so much from one city or county to the next, make sure you research local adult entertainment laws before starting that type of business.

The following is a summary of the various types of strip club laws, and regulations affecting sexually explicit theaters, pornographic video stores, and other adult-oriented businesses.

Zoning Laws

Zoning laws regulate where a given type of business may or may not locate (and also pertain to residential, industrial and other interests). The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that local ordinances may regulate the time, place and manner in which such businesses are operated without violating the First Amendment (Renton v. Playtime Theatres).

Zoning laws specific to SOBs are valid as long as they are intended to minimize the negative effects of these businesses (such as lowered property values or drug use) and are not motivated by the adult content itself, which would be a violation of the First Amendment. But within these parameters, zoning laws for SOBs differ tremendously and often reflect the prevailing cultural sentiments of the community.

New York City's zoning law, for example, allows businesses to operate anywhere in the city if less than 40 percent of their space or inventory is devoted to sexually explicit activities. In contrast, a Columbia, South Carolina law classified a business as "sexually oriented" if it sold or rented just one movie deemed sexually explicit (the law was loosened in 2000, since mainstream retailers selling R-rated movies were affected).

Other zoning laws target the advertising of SOBs, including a Missouri law banning sexually oriented billboards on state highways.

Alcohol

Local ordinances often regulate whether alcohol may be served at a strip club in accordance to how much nudity is allowed. Clubs that allow full nudity sometimes are prohibited from selling alcohol, while clubs requiring dancers to cover their genitals often may serve alcohol (and usually are restricted to those 21 and older).

Topless clubs in Las Vegas may serve alcohol, for example, but fully nude clubs may not. A 2007 Shelby County, Tennessee ordinance that was challenged in court but upheld in 2011 bans the sale of alcohol at all strip clubs, which also are barred from displaying full nudity.

Other SOB Regulations

In keeping with the Renton case mentioned above, local laws may regulate the "time, place and manner" in which SOBs are operated. Place is regulated by zoning laws and time is regulated by some municipal laws requiring adult-oriented theaters and strip clubs to close at 12:00 a.m., for example.

Below are some of the more common types of adult entertainment and strip club laws affecting the "manner" in which sexually-oriented establishments may operate (in addition to alcohol, which is discussed above):

  • Age Requirements - Most ordinances require patrons and employees to be 18 and older; 21 if alcohol is served
  • Nudity Rules - Some localities allow full nudity, others require nipples and genitals to be covered, and some allow full nudity only if alcohol is not served
  • Contact with Patrons - Some clubs allow "lap dancing," or some form of limited contact, while others have strict distance requirements between patrons and dancers
  • Licensing - Exotic dancers in Detroit, Mich., for example, must pay an annual fee to be licensed and also must pass a background check
  • Taxation - Texas, for example, requires the collection of a $5 entrance fee, which is paid to a foundation for victims of rape
Next Steps
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