Selling sex

Nevada brothel targets Sacramentans through radio and print promotions

Dennis Hof outside the Moonlight Bunny Ranch Brothel, which he purchased with money he earned selling time shares.

Dennis Hof outside the Moonlight Bunny Ranch Brothel, which he purchased with money he earned selling time shares.

Courtesy Of the Moonlight Bunny Ranch

In the latest Sacramento edition of the Pacific Bell Smart Yellow Pages, under the heading of Adult Entertainers, there is a simple display advertisement featuring a seductive photo of Penthouse Pet Sunset Davis, the phone number 1-888-BunnyRanch, and the words, “Call for your adventure.”

It really doesn’t seem more erotic or overtly sexual than the 10 other stripper ads that surround it, with their alluring photos and promises of private, two-girl or adult toy shows. But Sunset Thomas and her colleagues at the Moonlight Bunny Ranch Brothel promise something that the others can’t: sex. Guaranteed, legal sex for cash.

The ad is part of this Nevada whorehouse’s recent push to reach out to the Sacramento market—the closest big city in California, and therefore an ideal target market—that has included radio promotions, Web sites, efforts to place newspaper advertisements and other promotional tactics.

“We can’t do TV or radio advertising and Sacramento is drive-over traffic,” said Kent Wallace, director of marketing for the Bunny Ranch. “It’s a sophisticated California town and it’s just over the hill. We can only get on (the media) through promotion.”

The morning show on Sacramento radio station KWOD has been to the Moonlight Bunny Ranch four times. The show has had numerous “Lose Your Virginity” contests, one in which an 18-year-old who was leaving for the service after September 11 did not want to go into the Army a virgin, and had his wish come true.

“The Bunny Ranch is a lot of fun,” said host The Dave. “They treat you like you are special. They don’t sit there and look at you and ask you what kind of car you drive, how much money you make or anything like that. It’s a for-the-moment experience and it’s an adventure. Nobody is judged when you walk through that front door.”

While prostitution is illegal in California, apparently promoting it to Californians isn’t.

Dennis Hof, owner of the Bunny Ranch, takes pride in his profession. He has been fondly called the “Pimpmaster General of America” by Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine.

“I’m a business owner, a taxpayer and I’m a friend of the community,” said Hof. “Why should I have to hide what I do? It’s legal.”

Hof is effectively barred from advertising in Nevada by a state law that prohibits prostitution from being advertised beyond the two small counties where it is legal.

“Realistically,” said Keith Marcher, senior deputy Nevada attorney general, “if the guy took out a big billboard or a TV ad it would be distributed to counties where it isn’t legal and instead of trying to fool with keeping that under taps, I’d assume that the guy won’t advertise at all.”

So Hof, a successful time-share developer and marketer in the San Diego area before buying the Moonlight Bunny Ranch, has adapted his marketing skills, pushed the promotion envelope and hustled all the free advertisement that he can. He’s had to be creative in his efforts to promote and legitimize the selling of sex.

“I am a relentless, shameless promoter in a business that has been typically kept very low-key,” said Hof. “The reason that it was kept low-key is because the people in the business were unsavory at best and I’m not. I’m a businessman and I feel that I have the right to promote my business wherever I can, especially in light of advertising restraints that are placed on me by the state of Nevada.”

Is it legal for a Nevada brothel to advertise in California? “As far as the California statutes, there is nothing that prohibits advertising of Nevada bordellos,” said Hallye Jordan, press secretary of the California State Attorney General’s Office. “About 10 years ago there was a bill introduced to prohibit those advertisements, but it didn’t pass.”

Yet while there are no overt bans on advertising brothels in California, it is one of those legal gray areas, something that has prevented most newspapers and magazines in California from accepting such ads.

“There is a Penal Code section that makes it a felony to receive money or anything of value for attempting to procure another person for the purpose of prostitution or to leave the state for the purpose of prostitution,” said Jim Ewert, the legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. “While the activity is legal in Nevada, any ad that would solicit that type of activity, I think, could potentially bring a newspaper under criminal liability for running such an ad.”

Yet such concerns have done little to deter Hof from reaching out far beyond Nevada’s borders.

Hof has been a regular guest on the Howard Stern Show. Comedy Central’s Insomniac with Dave Attell on February 20 stopped at the Moonlight Bunny Ranch, and the CBS primetime news show 48 Hours has been there twice since the beginning of the year to finish up a piece. There have been articles on the Moonlight Bunny Ranch in Maxim, Time and the New Yorker.

“Last week Howard Stern was in Vegas for three days. We were on every day,” said Hof. “I can’t take out a hundred-dollar ad in the Reno Gazette, but I can go on Howard Stern and have 17 million people hear me every day.”

To find the Moonlight Bunny Ranch you only have to drive east on U.S. 50 from Carson City and follow the small signs. “Warning! Adult Sexual Entertainment” warns one, while the next boasts, “Governor Jesse Ventura had sex here.”

So have lots of other people. The Moonlight Bunny Ranch has been in business since 1955 and during the 10 years that Dennis Hof has owned it he says they have averaged 30,000 customers a year. Hof attributes his success as a pimp to the same skills that made him a successful seller of time shares.

“I’m basically in the same business,” said Hof. “I’m taking one nice product that people don’t like to own or can’t afford and sharing it with a lot of people. If you stop and think about the similarities, they are huge. You’re taking a condo on a beach somewhere that people don’t really need or use 24/7 and selling off pieces of it so they can use it at their pleasure. For a man who doesn’t want to be married and have that responsibility or wants a variety, we give him the ability to achieve his goals in a safe, fun and legal environment.”

On his Web site and through fliers, the girls at the ranch—many of whom are porn stars picking up extra cash—are advertised like products. Air Force Amy comes with the tagline “over 1,000,000 sex acts sold.” Or you can choose from the “deep throat diva,” “all natural little girl,” or “the tallest woman in porn today.”

“Part of the reason that people come to the Bunny Ranch is that they are assured confidentiality,” Wallace said. “The girl is not going to come to them a few months later saying that she is pregnant. They are not going to get a disease. The girls aren’t going to be calling them the next day trying to hook up with them. They know when they go to the Bunny Ranch that it’s sex and it’s a safe, legal environment.”