Navigating COVID-19 safety protocols in a business built on intimacy and physical contact was tricky for Nye County brothels. But since the state’s mask mandate was lifted Feb. 10, legal sex workers in the county say business is back to business as usual.
“Everyone is happy we’re open again,” said Will Paccione, operations manager at Chicken Ranch, a 17-bed brothel on the outskirts of town in South Pahrump. “The pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone.”
Nevada brothels — along with all other non-essential businesses — shut down for 14 months during the pandemic. But in May 2021, those doors reopened with certain restrictions and guidelines.
“There was great demand when we opened and again when the mask mandate was lifted,” Paccione said.
According to Paccione, Nevada’s legal brothels are as important to the state’s tourist economy as gambling.
In a typical year, legal brothels generate about $50 million in total revenue and have an economic impact of about $400 million on the state. They are also a destination for travelers from around the world.
“People make specific trips just to come to the famous historic Chicken Ranch brothel. Right on our sign, it says “Where the West is still wild!”
About 300 yards from the Chicken Ranch, the courtesans of Sheri’s Ranch, a resort-style hotel with seven standard rooms and three themed suites, have also been busy since the property reopened.
“We were criticized from day one,” said Mrs. Dena of Sheri’s Ranch. “I couldn’t believe how many people came out.”
When brothels initially reopened at half capacity in May 2021, customers had their temperatures taken upon entry and masks were required in all common areas. Courtiers also had temperatures checked and recorded each morning and wore masks with customers if requested. The welfare of brothel workers has been heavily regulated since 1937, when a law was enacted requiring weekly health checks for sex workers.
Dena said the stricter measures did not cause any major problems while they were in place.
“People are very aware of how they feel,” she said. “Clients rescheduled their appointments if they weren’t feeling well. Many people were vaccinated and wore masks.
Nearly a year after reopening, Sheri’s Ranch is still seeing an increase in guest visits, even from pre-pandemic numbers.
“People appreciate more the things they haven’t done,” Dena said. “Going to a brothel is one of them.”
Dena also credits Pahrump for the brothels’ success after reopening.
“Pahrump is a strong and caring community,” she said. “The industry has struggled during our shutdown, but people have been really supportive. It’s good to know we’re wanted.
Jenna Mae, a Chicken Ranch courtesan, said COVID protocols haven’t killed the vibe between her and her customers.
“It wasn’t hard to connect with customers through the masks,” Mae said. “We got used to the new reality.
For Mae and other Chicken Ranch women, what they do isn’t just sex, it’s an intimate human connection.
“People come in with no confidence or don’t know how to talk to girls, and we help them out,” Mae said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Customers seem to be looking for something special after months of lockdowns, travel restrictions and shutdowns.
“People are looking for privacy and the experience of a brothel,” Mae said. “COVID has had no impact on that.”
A popular option for returning customers at the Chicken Ranch is the Girlfriend Experience, which isn’t exclusively about sex.
“A guy can last a minute and then spend the next 59 minutes watching a movie,” Paccione said. “Some people just need to talk or date someone.”
Since Nevada dropped its statewide mask mandate in February, brothels in Nye County no longer require patrons to wear masks or undergo temperature checks when visiting establishments. Sheri’s Ranch only asks for temperature checks if guests are coughing or appear sick.
However, COVID precautions are still in place for brothel workers, including enhanced sanitation procedures. Patrons and courtesans continue to have the option of wearing masks.
Chicken Ranch staff are still required to undergo daily temperature checks and courtesans have access to self-administered COVID tests. If a worker tests positive, they are expected to return home and self-quarantine, rather than complete their stay.
With continued precautions and the return of tourism to Las Vegas, Nye County brothels expect their businesses to continue to thrive.
“Unlike casinos, everyone leaves a winner here,” Paccione said.