Scandals hurt Vegas' well-honed image as a top nightclub destination

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*logoIn the last 10 years, Vegas has positioned itself as one of the top nightclub destinations in the world, building multimillion-dollar party palaces, inking the world's best DJs to resident gigs, drawing celebrity investors (Paris Hilton and Shaquille O'Neal among them) and luring revelers from around the globe to some of the biggest and brashest parties the industry has seen.

And in the last few years, the local nightclub industry has been its own worst enemy, under investigation for allegations that run the gamut, from violence, drug use and racism to tax evasion, disorderly conduct, sex in public and shaking down male patrons.

In March, a federal judge allowed a discrimination lawsuit filed against Caesars Palace and Simon Property Group, owners of the resort's Forum Shops retail outlet, to move forward. Wolfgang Puck's Chinois restaurant and owners of the popular Poetry hip-hop nightclub, which leased space above Chinois, claimed Caesars and Simon Property forced the club's majority-black clientele to enter through a dirty side door. In a 2007 lawsuit against Phase II, which owns Chinois, Simon Property Group claimed the company misrepresented the nature of the club it intended to open.

Citing nudity, reckless disorder and underage drinking, the Clark County Business License Department denied liquor licenses to Prive and the Living Room inside Planet Hollywood. Along with Lavo at the Palazzo, Prive is up for Nightclub & Bar magazine's award for best new club.

"The evidence of improper management oversight and disregard for the duties of the licensee is overwhelming and points to only one decision, denial of a liquor license," said Jacqueline Holloway, director of the Clark County Business License Department. "We expect consistent compliance and cooperation from our privileged licensees for the benefit of our citizens."

This is the latest black eye for the world-famous Vegas nightclub industry. In 2008, amid allegations that employees at Pure inside Caesars and at Luxor's Lax were hiding cash from the federal government, IRS officials and state gaming regulators began scrutinizing business deals between casinos and club operators. Pure is up for Nightclub & Bar magazine's award for best superclub (along with Rain at the Palms). Lax is a best club award nominee.

Local properties tend to dominate Nightclub & Bar magazine's list of top revenue-producing bars, lounges and nightclubs. Six made this year's top 10: Tao at the Venetian, Tryst at the Wynn, Pure, Jet at the Mirage, the Bank at Bellagio and Lax. If Vegas is to remain one of the top nightclub destinations in the world, its operators had better start cleaning up their act.

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