- Associated Press - Monday, November 19, 2012

RENO, Nev. — Lance Gilman is a thriving businessman with dozens of employees. That those workers include a good many prostitutes didn’t faze the people of a rural Nevada county that recently elected him as a Storey County commissioner by a wide margin.

The Mustang Ranch brothel owner is the first such owner to win election to public office in Nevada since prostitution was legalized here in 1971, Nevada historian Guy Rocha said. He’s believed to be the first elected in the state’s 148-year history.

“He’s in rare company,” Mr. Rocha said. “Of course, it’s going to be rare because the business of selling sex for money is illegal in every jurisdiction in the United States except in rural Nevada.”

About two dozen brothels operate legally in 10 of Nevada’s 17 counties. Prostitution is illegal in the counties that include Las Vegas and Reno, the state’s population centers.

Mr. Gilman, 68, a self-described “dye-in-the-wool Republican who loves American values,” said he encountered few objections to his Mustang Ranch ownership during his campaign in the county of 4,000. He won with 62 percent of the vote on Nov. 6.

He says his bordello, located along Interstate 80 about 10 miles east of Reno, has contributed more than $5 million to the county’s budget over the past decade. It has 44 full-time employees and 30 to 80 working women, depending on the season.

“To 99 percent of the voters, they view it as just a business,” Mr. Gilman told The Associated Press. “It’s a prosperous business that’s helped the county.”

Mr. Gilman attributes his victory to his entrepreneurial experience. Mustang Ranch is only a small part of his business empire, which includes business parks, a Harley-Davidson dealership and master-planned communities in California and Nevada.

“People want to focus on the brothel issue … [but] I’ve had a wonderful 43-year record of business success that I bring to the commission,” he said.

Mustang Ranch became the state’s first legal brothel — and its most infamous — under former owner Joe Conforte. Heavyweight boxing contender Oscar Bonavena was slain there in 1976.

The brothel operated until 1999, when the federal government seized it after guilty verdicts against its parent companies and manager in a federal fraud and racketeering trial. Conforte is now a fugitive in Brazil.

Mr. Gilman bought the gaudy pink stucco buildings that once housed the bordello in 2003 and moved them a short distance next to his Wild Horse brothel. He assumed ownership of the Mustang Ranch trademark when he bought the buildings from the government.

His current business, which includes the two houses of prostitution, two restaurants and a nightclub, operates under the Mustang Ranch name.

“His election speaks to the acceptance of prostitution in rural Nevada, where it’s just understood,” Mr. Rocha said. “It goes back to a long-standing libertarian tradition, and laws reflect that. It’s different in urban Nevada, where prostitution is a mixed, controversial bag.”