Strippers and public policy

My short post last week about strip clubs and Dallas’ convention business elicited a surprising number of comments, including someone who called me a prude (which, in all my years of being called names, is the first time I have ever been called that).

The post was not meant to be a serious look at whether using strip clubs to bring conventions to town is a good idea, but many people seemed to think it was (almost all of them men, oddly enough). So, today, here are a few thoughts about the subject. More, after the jump:

I’ll skip the morality bit, and I won’t even spend too much time noting that using strip clubs to lure conventions is the worst kind of hypocrisy in a city that prides itself on its religion and morality. And the fact that I personally think strip clubs are offensive and demeaning to both men and women is irrelevant as well. It’s an economic and public policy question: Are there more effective ways to bring conventions to town than women with plastic breasts?

What do convention organizers want? Talk to them, and they’ll tell you that they want a good transportation system and mass transit. They want a certain number of hotel rooms close to the convention site. They want a bunch of fancy restaurants.  And they want a modern convention center with competitive rates. All of which we have.

What they don’t mention, even off the record, is strip clubs. Which I understand. Who wants to get involved in that discussion? The last time that happened in Dallas, at the beginning of the decade, we had a nice political stink.

Yet I’m not naive enough to think that strip clubs don’t play into this. And why not? Isn’t it an easy and effective enticement? The first thing men away from home want to do is stuff dollar bills down a woman’s G-string, right? Or, as the great Eric Idle, once noted, “Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.” Because, given the way these things work, trade shows and conventions are still mostly male.

There are two things wrong with that argument. First, it’s not true. About one in seven men go to strip clubs regularly, which doesn’t seem like much of a number to build a policy around. Second, strip clubs may make lots of money for their owners, but no one has yet demonstrated that they actually bring convention money and business to cities like Dallas. Or that they actually care about bringing convention business to Dallas. Some quick numbers: The convention center hosts about 200 events a year (the biggest of which, Mary Kay, probably doesn’t do much strip club business). Dallas, meanwhile, has maybe a couple of dozen "quality" strip clubs. That doesn’t seem like enough to make any kind of difference.

And no, Las Vegas doesn’t prove the rule, because there is only one Las Vegas – as Shreveport, Atlantic City and every other city that has tried and failed to be Vegas has more than amply demonstrated.

And, frankly, if conventions are half as important to Dallas as the bosses downtown say they are, shouldn’t we attract conventions by selling something more reliable and dependable than watered down and over-priced drinks? I took a lot of flak in the other post for comparing Dallas to cities that have attractions other than strippers. Silly me. But isn’t that just another example of failed public policy in Dallas? How sad is it that we don’t have anything better to offer out-of-towners than lap dances?


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