Legal vs. Illegal in Las Vegas: Hashing out the Myths

Despite popular belief, many things are illegal in Las Vegas. The town is not a free for-all in which you can do whatever you want. It is not a foreign country and many of the same laws you have back at home are also applied here in Las Vegas.

The most common misconception people have is that prostitution is legal. Prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas! Do not listen to the urban legends. Do not listen to your friends. It is illegal. However, there is a reason for this misunderstanding. Prostitution is legal in any county in Nevada with less than 400,000 residents. The only two counties that this excludes is Clark County (i.e. Las Vegas) and Washoe County (i.e. Reno). Everywhere else in Nevada; however, prostitution is legal and may take place in legal brothels like the famous Moonlite Bunny Ranch or Sheri’s Ranch. Sheri’s Ranch is the closest to Las Vegas and is also the most expensive. However, there are illegal prostitutes walking around in Las Vegas, often calling themselves “escorts." But do not take their word for it, prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas and it is considered a misdemeanor. You may also see people on the side walk handing out fliers with nearly nude women on them. Handing out fliers on the street is called canvassing and after many attempts to stop them, this is still a legal practice. Escorting is also a legal practice as there is no promise for sex. The escorts advertise “companionship” or “entertainment," but in many cases they are willing to except money in exchange for sexual services.

Open containers of alcohol are legal on the Las Vegas Strip and downtown only. Many residential areas do not allow open containers of alcohol in the streets. Since the bar is often only a few feet from the street on the Las Vegas Strip, you are allowed to take your drink onto the street to walk to a neighboring casino. However, you may not sit in the street all day drinking. The open container law is for traveling purposes only, not for drunks to sit in the street and drink all day.

Another common misconception is that casinos make their own laws. Although casinos can make their own rules and kick you out for any reason, they cannot have you arrested if you’re not breaking the law. For example, cameras and cell phones are not allowed in casinos. Most of the time, casino personnel will nicely ask you to shut them off and not bother you again, however, if you repeatedly ignore the rules, you may be kicked out of the casino. The casino is a private establishment and they have the right to refuse service to almost anyone. They can kick you out if they “suspect” you of cheating. However, actually cheating and getting caught is illegal and in certain instances you can be arrested for it. Counting cards is legal. This is an urban legend that is true. Las Vegas has found no loop hole in the law that allows them to classify, “being smart” as illegal. There are plenty of other rules in the casino, though.  Most times you will get a warning before you are actually banned. Persons under the age of 21 are also not allowed to stop on any area of the casino floor. So your children and underage friends cannot sit with you, while you gamble.

Drinking and Gambling are legal 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  This is true. There is no time limit on drinking or gambling. There is no time that nightclubs must close or bars must stop serving. Vegas is a 24 hour town and this is one of the reasons people love it.

The smoking of cigarettes and cigars are legal in ALL areas of the casino floor and in stand alone bars/nightclubs that do not serve food. Casino’s are full or smoke for a reason. Smoking is legal on the gambling floor. However, smoking is not permitted in the restaurants that are sometimes just slightly off-set from the casino. If the nightclub happens to serve food, then smoking is usually not allowed during the hours that food is served. Sometimes smoking is allowed during the hours when only alcohol is being served at eating establishments.

It is legal to get married with no wait period and without a blood test. Marriages are much easier in Las Vegas than in many other places throughout the country. However, many of the same laws still apply. Same-sex marriages are illegal. Commitment ceremonies are often performed in their place. Persons must be 18 to legally marry without written consent from a guardian.

The drinking age and gambling age is 21. This is standard in most places throughout the U.S. Las Vegas is also ultra-strict on this. In fact, they do not allow ANY minors into any bars/nightclubs that do not serve food. Las Vegas has almost no underage clubs or “All Ages” nights. Underage people are also not allowed to stop in the casinos or loiter near any of the bars. If caught drinking, people under 21 will be arrested.

Drugs are illegal. This seems obvious but apparently people seem to think that Las Vegas= Amsterdam and certain drugs are “tolerated." This is not true. In fact, Las Vegas has some of the most strict drug possession and trafficking laws in the U.S. Nothing is “tolerated” and ALL drugs are illegal. Marijuana included. Anything else you hear is a rumor. Don’t listen.

Drinking and driving is illegal. Although many tourists do not even attempt to drive in Las Vegas, the locals will tell you that it is illegal. A blood alcohol level above .08 is illegal while operating a vehicle.

Taxi drivers may not pick up or drop off passengers on the street. Unlike, most places taxis cannot just pull up to a curb and pick up a passenger. They must make their way to designated taxi stands and wait in line. There is two reasons for this, the first is for safety (the streets are just too busy and crowded for any stopping) and the second is because drivers would constantly be fighting over business if the laws allowed drivers to pick up passengers anywhere they wanted.