Paris Hilton found out that Sin City doesn’t tolerate certain vices when she was recently arrested and charged with a class E felony for possession of cocaine. She claims the cocaine in her purse was put there by a friend who had borrowed the bag earlier, but the “I didn’t know” defense typically doesn’t hold up well in court. Certain laws (like against cocaine possession) seem like no-brainers, but this is Las Vegas we’re talking about. So, since ignorance of the law is not a valid excuse, you might want to read up on Las Vegas statutes before your next visit. It’s also a good idea to check your bags and pockets. Just in case.
You may think what you do in Vegas stays in Vegas, but…
1. Prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas. While Nevada is the only state in the USA where prostitution is legal, it’s not legal everywhere, and this includes Clark County, home of Las Vegas. If you’re driving through Nevada to get to sin city, you might be interested to know that Washoe, Douglas, Lincoln, and Carson City are the other counties that have outlawed ladies of the evening. Fliers and ads featuring escorts and nudes may suggest the availability of sexual services, but be warned: if you’re robbed or assaulted by these companies while seeking illegal sex, the police are unlikely to help.
2. You have to be 21 to gamble. This doesn’t mean you have to be 21 to step foot inside a casino, but it does mean those under 21 must keep out of gaming areas, stick to designated paths in order to pass through them, and are basically banned from gambling at any time under any circumstances. Casinos are very strict with their rules in order to keep their licenses, and they constantly check for IDs. If you are caught you could be escorted out of the gambling area, off the property, or even fined and arrested, depending on the offense.
3. The drinking age is still 21 years old. You may legally buy a drink in Vegas at the stroke of midnight PST on the date of your birthday, but there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get into a bar or club before that moment. You cannot buy alcohol for anyone under the age of 21, as “corrupting a minor” is an arrestable offense. Most establishments that serve food and alcohol will allow someone underage to eat there, especially if accompanied by an adult, but they are not allowed to drink. There are under-21 clubs that don’t serve alcohol.
4. Walking and driving with alcohol. Bars are allowed to stay open and serve alcohol 24/7, so many people do their drinking indoors. While it’s technically in the law books that you cannot drink in public, this rule is rarely enforced (except in cases of disorderly conduct). Given that liquor stores are typically open 24 hours a day, it’s not uncommon to see people walking down the street with open containers of alcoholic beverages. What’s not accepted in Vegas is drinking and driving. DUI laws are strictly enforced, and can result in a minimum of one to three days in jail, thousands of dollars in fines, and a temporarily revoked license.
5. Smoking? Yes, no, and maybe. All floor-spaces inside large casinos, strip clubs, and no-food bars allow smoking, but you do have to be 18 to buy cigarettes. Any place that does serve food, however, like a restaurant or certain night-clubs and bars, does not permit smoking. If are caught smoking in a non-smoking area, you’ll probably be asked to leave but could face a fine.
6. There’s a curfew for minors. If you’re under 18, you’re not supposed to be out alone (i.e., without an adult or guardian over 21) in public from 10pm-5am Sunday through Thursday, and midnight to 5am Friday night through Sunday morning. The exceptions are for minors coming home from an event, meeting or public entertainment (e.g., a concert), coming home from work, engaged in parent-improved interstate travel, or on an emergency errand. Along The Strip and for the blocks on either side, the curfew starts at 9pm Friday, Saturday, and all legal holidays.
7. Those tricky taxis. You should always be on the lookout for drivers trying to take you on a “long haul” without your permission (i.e., the longest route from A to B), and you should always say no to “high flagging” (where the cab doesn’t run the meter but cuts a deal instead) since this voids the vehicle insurance for the ride. For the most part, you probably won’t run into these shady practices, but the one thing you will notice is that it’s illegal in Las Vagas for cabbies to drop off and pick up passengers along the Strip. The only way to get a taxi along the Strip is to go up to a hotel and have them call one for you (you’ll have to tip the concierge). It’s also illegal to enter a cab without sufficient fare, so either be sure you have the cash on hand, or make sure your cab company is one of the two that accept credit cards.
8. Love and Marriage and Divorce. Las Vegas is famous for its many quickie weddings, and used to be just as famous for quickie divorces. However, nowadays you must be a resident of Clark County for at least six weeks before you can file for divorce, which will take a minimum of six weeks before being finalized. Keep in mind that Nevada is a community property state, which means you and your spouse will split your assets and debts equally. This is why it’s a good idea to get a prenup before you get married. Considering the amount of drunken weddings that take place, it’s a good thing fairly simple annulments are available to anyone who got married in Nevada or where either spouse lives there. Annulments aren’t guaranteed and must typically be filed for soon after the wedding. Grounds include: “underage, intoxication, insanity, blood-relatedness, and significant material misrepresentation.” Getting married, on the other hand, is much easier. It only requires that the two adults be over 18 and not related. You can even be 16 as long as a parent or guardian is present to consent. Divorced parties must provide proof of finalization of their divorce. Finally, the $55 license fee must be paid.
9. Counting cards is no good. The act of counting cards using only your brain is not in and of itself illegal. However, if casinos suspect you of counting cards, either mentally or through trickery such as teamwork or gadgetry, they are legally allowed to kick you out and revoke your winnings. As private establishments they can refuse service to anyone for any reason. Casinos also tend to share information on card counters with other casinos, so once you are caught in one, you are unlikely to be allowed entry in another. In Nevada, casinos can detain and question people suspected of cheating, but cannot force them to pose for photographs. Since casinos are the main Vegas industry, you may not get much help from police if caught cheating.
10. Illegal drugs. As the name implies, if a drug is illegal in the US, you can’t do it in Vegas. If you do take drugs in Vegas, you may be in for some of the harshest penalties for drug use in the US. As Paris found out, cocaine is illegal everywhere to buy or sell, and possession is a felony. “Softer” drugs like marijuana are allowed for medicinal use, and possession for non-licensed individuals may result in a misdemeanor rather than a felony, but even for marijuana there’s a mandatory minimum sentencing guideline.
Now, even if you follow all these rules in Vegas, there are still plenty of ways to have fun and get in trouble. To ensure that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, you might want to make your friends sign a confidentiality agreement.