‘Pole’ Tax: A $5-per-Customer Fee Proposed for Strip Clubs

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Taxes are widely tacked onto spending related to alcohol, casino gambling, cigarettes and other “sins.” Should customers also have to pay a tax each time they enter a “gentleman’s club”?

Toi Hutchinson, an Illinois state senator, is sponsoring a bill that would impose a $5-per-customer tax on strip clubs in the state that serve alcohol or allow it to be consumed on the premises. Money raised by the tax would go to state programs aimed at reducing sexual assault and helping sex-crime victims.

Hutchinson explained her reasoning for the tax to the Pantagraph:

“If you’re going to sell sex and alcohol, then bad things sometimes happen,” Hutchinson said. “I’m hopeful they’ll work with me to take some of the stink off their name.”

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Naturally, club owners are opposed to the bill, as well as the assumption that there’s a “stink” on adult establishments. They argue the tax would hurt business, perhaps even causing some clubs to close and dancers, doormen, and bartenders to lose their jobs, and that it’s wrong to imply there’s a relationship between sex crimes and strip clubs. An industry lobbyist told the Chicago Tribune that there is no scientific proof “that going to an adult club causes people to go out and commit rape, commit crimes.”

Illinois isn’t the first state to consider a “pole tax,” if you will. In 2009, a New York City assemblyman proposed a $10 tax on each strip-club patron — an un-cover charge,” in the words of the New York Post.

More than four years ago, Texas passed such a tax to the tune of $5 per head. A court battle ensued immediately, and for a while the courts basically ruled that nude dancing was constitutionally protected free speech, and that a tax on such “speech” was in violation of the First Amendment.

Last summer, though, the Texas Supreme Court rejected the argument brought in a suit against the state that the tax was unfair because it was directed at “constitutionally protected expression in nude dancing.” The court instead declared that the issue wasn’t about speech or expression, with one justice writing: “The fee is not aimed at any expressive content of nude dancing but at the secondary effects of the expression in the presence of alcohol.”

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If the bill passes in Illinois, the $5-per-customer tax could raise as much as $44 million. Cities such as Minneapolis and Phoenix are also reportedly discussing the possibility of adding strip-club taxes.

Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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