Dennis Hof, the owner of the Bunny Ranch brothel and six others in Nevada, is known as a master of gaining media attention.
“Do I come up with gimmicks? I’m the P.T. Barnum of the sex industry,” Hof said. “I’m always looking for a new angle and something funny to keep my name and the name of the Bunny Ranch in the national media.”
Hof is the star of the HBO series “Cathouse,” just published his memoirs, “The Art of the Pimp,” and once offered free sex at the Bunny Ranch to the nation’s returning military warriors.
Hof’s latest pronouncement is about politics. He said two weeks ago he was joining the Nevada Libertarian Party and considering running for the U.S. Senate, for the seat that is being vacated with the retirement of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Hof, who describes his politics as a “conserva-tarian,” remains upset with Reid for his speech before the Nevada Legislature in 2011, when Reid called for the elimination of Nevada’s legalized prostitution industry.
Hof sees his potential campaign, at the very least, as a poke at Reid.
“I tell you, if I decide to do this, and win, I think it is great to take the guy’s seat who tried to put me out of business four years ago,” Hoff said.
When Hof announced he was setting up an exploratory committee to look at a U.S. Senate run, outlets including the Washington Post, Washington Times and CNBC made it a national story.
Nevada’s Libertarian Party ranks No. 4 in state voter-registration statistics with 12,137 registered at the end of June, according to Secretary of State statistics. The party has a long way to go to catch up with the Democrats’ state-leading registration of 570,000 voters.
Hof’s candidacy is welcomed by the party, said state Chairman Brett Pojunis.
“He really brings a lot to the party,” Pojunis said. “We are really excited about the celebrity that he does have.”
Although the Nevada Libertarian Party does not select its candidates until its state convention next year, Hof has already been penciled in as the party’s U.S. Senate candidate.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with Dennis. I like him a lot,” Pojunis said. “I don’t foresee anybody else trying to come up and run for that spot. So yeah, we are thrilled to have him on board.”
The party also has no qualms with Hof’s business — legal prostitution.
“It is, more or less, my body and my choice,” said Pojunis about the libertarian philosophy toward legal prostitution. “We feel that the government should not tell us what we can and can’t do with our body. And so prostitution, as long as it is between two consenting adults … We frown upon sex trafficking in a big way and anything that is outside of ‘consenting adults,’ we have a huge problem with.”
Is Hof serious? His “exploratory committee” is made up of the same folks that help him run his seven brothels.
“It’s my staff, my CFO, my marketing people, people I trust,” Hof said of his exploratory committee. “We are trying to figure out, can we pull this off? Is it the right thing to do? Do we want to deal with the financial requirements?”
The biggest obstacle for Hof is money.
This is multimillion endeavor. Reid and Republican challenger Sharron Angle each spent more than $25 million in Nevada’s 2012 U.S. Senate race. Some political experts, however, don’t expect the same level of spending in the 2016 U.S. Senate race, which currently pits Republican Joe Heck against Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto. Yet multimillion-dollar fundraising appears to be a must for a run at the U.S. Senate.
“The biggest thing is, where am I going to get the money?” Hof said. “I am not a career politician. I don’t want to be a career politician and I don’t like career politicians because all they are looking for, instead of fixing problems in our government, is keeping their job in the next election. So how do I get, what has been told to me that would cost $5 million to $10 million without funding it myself?
“Could I do that? Yeah,” Hof said. “Do I want to do that? No. So how do I get that kind of money without selling myself and being like the rest of these guys, the rest of these politicians with all their favors?”
Cortez Masto and Heck will have large political organizations behind them. Both of their parties will probably have more than 500,000 voters in Nevada come election time.
Cortez Masto, the two-term former Nevada attorney general, has already been endorsed by Reid. A daughter of one of Las Vegas’ most influential tourism officials, she has been groomed for this job since she was little, some observers have said.
Heck is a sitting congressman, a licensed medical doctor and a one-star general whose political life includes both losing and winning some knock-down, drag-out campaigns.
If Hof is not serious about raising money, he won’t stand a chance, said Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College.
“He would not have an impact on either candidate, especially if he does not want to actively raise money and actually conduct a valid campaign,” Lokken said. “Only a fraction of the voters will actually know that he is in the campaign.
“Running as a Libertarian greatly limits the portions of the electorate who will be interested in his candidacy and ensures that he won’t win,” Lokken added.
“But he’s also, in a way, our own Donald Trump,” Lokken said. “He’s someone who likes attention and finds creative ways of getting attention.”
Prostitution and politics
Hof would not be the first member of Nevada’s legal prostitution industry to run for political office.
Former Mustang Ranch and Bunny Ranch courtesan Jessi Winchester — who gained international notoriety when she competed in the Mrs. Nevada pageant while working at a brothel — placed second in a Republican primary for Congress in 1996. She was third in a nine-person GOP primary for lieutenant governor in 2000.
Lance Gilman, owner of the Mustang Ranch brothel in Storey County, is currently an elected member of the Storey County Commission. Gilman was also a major player in the negotiations that brought the Tesla Motors gigafactory to Northern Nevada.
“It’s one of those ‘only-in-Nevada’ stories,” Lokken said about Hof and the others in politics.
“Over the years, we have seen individuals from the brothel industry show an interest in politics,” Lokken said. “Sometimes it is for the attention. Sometimes they have an issue.”
Hof’s big issues
Hof said the $1.4 billion package of new and extended taxes recently passed by the Legislature was the factor that “put him over the edge” and got him thinking about running for office. But if elected to Harry Reid’s seat, his issue will be wiping out illegal sex trafficking.
“Do people not know what is going on in Las Vegas,” Hof said about sex trafficking. “It is out of hand. Las Vegas is the cesspool in America, the worst there is when it comes to sex crimes.”
Sex trafficking in Las Vegas includes underage girls who are virtual slaves to their pimps, Hof said, adding that it is also dangerous for those who seek out the illegal sex trade in Las Vegas.
“What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas when it comes to sex trafficking because STDs go home with you,” Hof said.
Hof admits it is self-serving for him to push against illegal sex trafficking.
If illegal sex trafficking could be stopped in Las Vegas, it would be a financial boon for Hof, since he owns brothels in Southern Nevada, including the “Alien Cathouse,” located 90 miles from Las Vegas.
“It is absolutely self-serving,” Hof said. “But can you do the right thing and be self-serving at the same time? Yes.”
Hof considers himself an expert on the issue and has spoken at international conferences on legal prostitution and sex trafficking.
“I have lectured in Oxford, I have lectured at the famed Dublin’s Trinity College,” Hof said. “Three months ago, I was (lecturing) in Paris,” Hof said. “I have worked with all of the major news organizations on sex trafficking. I’ve done an hour show on CNN on sex trafficking, called ‘Selling The Girl Next Door.’
“I do this all of the time,” Hof said. “And if you are in the (U.S.) Senate, you’ve got a bigger voice. The Pope is talking about (sex) trafficking now. That is how bad it is. It is epidemic proportions around America and nobody does anything about it.”