Texas slaps ‘pole tax’ on strip clubs to benefit rape victims
Texas, where strip clubs have given rise to Anna Nicole Smith and many other less-generously endowed performers, is about to make it more expensive to watch a little bump and grind.
In what some have dubbed the “pole tax,” the Lone Star State will require its 150 or so strip clubs to collect a $5-per-customer levy, with most of the proceeds going to help rape victims. The tax goes into effect New Year’s Day.
Club owners and some of their customers say the money is going to a noble cause, but they argue that the tax infringes on their 1st Amendment right to freedom of expression, that it will drive some bars out of business and that it unfairly links the industry to sex crimes.
“We’ll be fine. I’ve already stopped advertising, and we’re raising our cover charges. But this is going to kill some of the smaller clubs,” said Dawn Rizos, who with her husband runs the Lodge, a Hemingway-inspired spot that has exotic animal heads on the walls and is packed after Dallas Cowboys games at nearby Texas Stadium.
The strip clubs are suing to block the tax, which state officials estimate will raise more than $40 million a year, based on liquor sales figures. If accurate, the estimate suggests that at least 8 million people a year go to Texas strip clubs to get a lap dance or watch women pole-dance in a G-string.
Supporters of the tax say they are not out to close the clubs -- that would just mean less money for victims of sexual assault.
“This is an industry that largely employs women, and this gives them an opportunity to raise funds for a crime that affects women,” said state Rep. Ellen Cohen, a Houston Democrat who sponsored the bill, approved by the Legislature in May.
Most places will probably raise drink prices and cover charges, or start charging a cover if they don’t do so already.
Strip clubs occupy a mythic place in Texas lore as a spot where young women can work their way through college and where small-town girls with dreams of Hollywood stardom get their start on the lowest rung of show biz.
Texas’ topless spots include dimly lighted dives as well as gentlemen’s clubs that resemble hunting lodges and draw men in business suits. The pole tax is unlikely to have much effect on the more upscale venues, many of which already have steep cover charges and high-priced drinks.