The owner of America's most famous brothel explains how he promotes a business that is illegal to advertise

Prostitution is legal in Nevada, but advertising the brothels that purvey prostitution is far trickier.

It’s a catch-22 that Dennis Hof, the outspoken owner of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, has had to negotiate since he bought the business in 1992.

“I didn’t realise I was buying a business that couldn’t advertise … It’s part of the laws in Nevada. I had a business that I couldn’t tell anyone about,” Hof told Business Insider in a recent interview.

In Nevada, the legality of prostitution is determined on a county-by-county basis. Prostitution is illegal in Clark and Washoe counties, which include Reno and Las Vegas.

The ban on advertising stems from two 1979 laws that prohibit advertising brothels except in the counties in which they are legal, as the Associated Press reported. The ban effectively rules out ads on statewide newspapers, radio stations, and television.

In addition, brothels are not allowed to advertise in theatres, on public streets, or highways.

Despite the ban, Hof hasn’t had any trouble attracting customers.

In the 30-plus years since Hof bought the Ranch, he has expanded from a small house with six rooms to seven facilities with 170 rooms, 540 prostitutes, and 150 additional employees, including bar and restaurant staff, as well as those who work on the hospitality and transportation side of things.

Most brothels in Nevada still run as small, single facilities. However, the Bunny Ranch has managed to grow despite the ban by using “crazy antics,” according to Hof.

After buying the Bunny Ranch in 1992, Hof decided to employ some of the unorthodox tactics of his friend, performance artist Andy Kaufman, who was notorious for elaborate publicity stunts.

“We did just about any crazy stunt that we could do to get in the news,” Hof said.

Among Hof’s varied stunts:

  • Hiring John Bobbitt, who was momentarily famous in 1993 because his wife cut off his penis. Bobbitt worked as a bartender and handyman for Hof, until his celebrity became too much of a liability.
  • After former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura admitted to frequenting the Ranch, Hof put a billboard in front advertising his patronage.
  • In 2003, Hof offered the first 50 veterans returning from Iraq a free sex session and a 50% discount on services for the following 50 days.
  • Announcing his support of Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in 2008 and offering Paul supporters a “2-for-1 special.”
  • In 2008, the federal government gave out tax rebates as part of an economic stimulus plan to jumpstart the economy. Hof announced that the first 100 customers to bring those checks to the Ranch would receive double their value in services.

The stunts frequently resulted in interviews on radio and television and helped establish Hof as a go-to media figure for the brothel industry in Nevada.

“We’re always looking for something to get us on ‘Saturday Night Live’ or on the late night shows. I’m good at that,” Hof said.

Hof has made a habit of co-opting current events for publicity. When Secret Service agents were caught soliciting prostitutes in Colombia in 2012, Hof publicly denounced the scandal on the grounds the agents didn’t “buy American.” Earlier this year, after Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy, Hof announced a “Hookers for Hillary” campaign. Each of the prostitutes at the Bunny Ranch filmed YouTube spots explaining why they support Hillary.

Hof relentlessly plugs the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, its sister facilities, and the prostitution industry at large. According to Hof, he now does upwards of 150 segments on radio shows every month, appears on five or six television shows, and is quoted in and featured in tons of articles in print and web.

“Anytime a politician gets in trouble with sex … I’m the go-to guy. I’m always looking for an angle,” Hof said.

In addition, Hof and the prostitutes at the Ranch work social media constantly, posting videos to YouTube, tweeting photos, and publishing salacious content on the brothel’s website, BunnyRanch.com.

Perhaps Hof’s biggest publicity coup was the development of “Cathouse,” an HBO documentary centered around the workings of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch. “Cathouse” was later expanded into a documentary series.

“The show has been good for business,” Hof said. “When the Recession happened in 2008, the brothel industry was off 50%-75%. Our business didn’t suffer a dime.”

Hof isn’t done yet. Earlier this year, he released his memoir, “The Art of the Pimp,” which goes into detail about his personal life, and includes a scathing evaluation from a psychiatrist and an essay on Hof from an ex-girlfriend.

He doesn’t call himself the “P.T. Barnum” of the brothel industry for nothing.

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