Nanny State

'Pole Tax' Still Causing Trouble for Texas Strip Clubs


Alex Thompson/Flickr

Texas is pressuring state strip clubs to hand over a couple million dollars, a sum Texas Comptroller Susan Combs says they owe under the state's $5-per-patron "pole tax," even though that tax is still facing an ongoing court challenge. 

A lifetime ago (aka 2008), I wrote about the Texas Entertainment Association's challenge to this "pole tax"—officially known as the "Sexually Oriented Business Fee"—for then–Doublethink editor Peter Suderman. That's how long the Texas Entertainment Association (TEA) has been fighting the state's absurd attempt to extort money from strip club patrons and owners.

Effective January 2008, the $5 fee was supposed to be levied on every person who visited a strip club in Texas, to fund programs for sexual assault victims and health care for the uninsured. But the TEA immediately brought a challenge, saying the law violated patrons' First Amendment rights.

A state district judge agreed, ruling the law unconstitutional. "There is no evidence that combining alcohol with nude erotic dancing causes dancers to be uninsured, that any dancer is in fact uninsured, or that any uninsured dancer could qualify for assistance," wrote Judge Scott Jenkins in his decision. 

But the state appealed, and the Texas Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the fee did not violate the First Amendment. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case. A new challenge is facing the 3rd Court of Appeals, with the TEA now arguing that the tax is unconstitutional because the fees are used improperly. 

Ongoing litigation, however, is "not valid" as a reason for dodging the fee, Combs wrote in an April 11 letter sent to about 200 Texas strip clubs. 

According to The Texas Tribune, only one state lawmaker is speaking out against the sexually oriented business fee. Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) responded to Combs' recent letter with one of his own, asking her why she's going after the clubs now when they're waiting on a decision from the Texas Court of Appeals. 

"I did send her a letter, asking her what has changed," said Dutton, who opposes the fee. He said that if sexual assault programs need money, "the Legislature ought to step up to the plate and do that."

Instead, what often happens, he said, is that lawmakers create fees against things they don't like, like strip clubs.

"Where does it end once you start down that road?" he said.

The TEA's current court challenge is based partly on the claim that the fee violates the state Constitution, which requires one-fourth of all occupation taxes to go to public schools. The TEA is also asking the court to consider whether the tax violates Texas' free speech provisions, which it says are broader than those provided by the First Amendment. 

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  1. I think I could count the number of times I’ve been to strip clubs on one hand. Doesn’t do anything for me. I mean, what’s the point of looking at mostly nude women that you can’t do anything with? To rub one off in the bathroom? Maybe if your significant other is so disgusting you need to go to a strip club to get revved up enough to do the deed, but if that’s the case then you’ve got worse problems. I don’t get it.

    1. When porn just won’t do it for you any more?

    2. IOW, why does anyone need a strip club?

      1. Um, no. That’s what people who want to ban things say.

    3. So what were you doing with the other hand?

      Also what if your SO is going with you and it’s all part of foreplay like watching pron together?

      That said I really don’t get the point of strip clubs either because the overwhelming majority of the “dancers” aren’t actually capable of dancing, aren’t remotely good looking (skinny with big boobs does not mean good looking it just means skinny with big boobs), and clearly do not want to be there.

      Sure every now and then you get one who is really good looking and really enjoys performing but they are rare and the rest of them are honestly less arousing than a Real Doll

      1. I’ll never forget the time this friend of mine had broken up with his girlfriend and took me to the strip club. It was day shift, so the girls were the b-team. Anyway, there’s this young woman who could bounce a bit, but couldn’t dance. After the song she comes and sits with us. My friend is trying to schmooze her by talking about how dancing is an art form and a bunch of other bullshit, when she says “You like my boobs? I just paid for them in November.” I fell off my chair I was laughing so hard. My friend wasn’t amused.

        1. When I was 17 my uncle’s friend owned a few strip clubs (he had been a manager at a hardware store, got laid off, took his money, bought one club, and became really successful and wealthy and bought more and started dating the strippers, etc; getting laid off was the best thing that ever happened to him), and we went to have lunch with him one day. We stopped by his club to pick him up (this was in Paterson, NJ) and went in. It was obviously during the day, so there was only one dancer. Not attractive. With stretch marks. My uncle sees her and goes “holy shit I went to high school with her.” He (and she) would been in their mid-30’s at the time. That was funny. Man, the stories about the closed-door parties they’d throw there were amazing, though.

          1. I have a cunning plan. Actually, someone else had it first, but. . .Strippermobile. An RV, strippers, poles, and mobility.

            1. That reminds me of my brilliant idea of driving around in a bus and banging chicks. I still can’t believe I got scooped.

              1. Should’ve filed a patent.

              2. “Quagmire’s Cross Country Tour.” Uh, isn’t there an “O” in country?

            2. We once rented a party bus that came with a stripper pole. And with some amusing stories from the driver.

              1. There was some sort of mobile stripper van here in Tampa, though I don’t know if it just transported people to the club or actually involved mobile strippers.

            3. You mean the “Voyeurbus”? (Google it.)

          2. We stopped by his club to pick him up (this was in Paterson, NJ)

            It wasn’t called the Bada Bing!, was it?

          3. Epi: Was it The Palace? If so, the closed-door parties still go on from time to time. I’m not a fan of strip clubs, especially not under Jerz rulez, but those parties are always a blast. Oh, the stories I could tell…

      2. I’m gonna guess you haven’t been to Down In Texas Saloon or Perfect 10 here near Austin.

        The dancers are mostly hot, mostly friendly, and aren’t afraid to rub up against you. Not to mention getting a free steak and shrimp lunch on Fridays with $1 drafts.

        It’s great for getting all fired up and then going home and fucking the hell out of your GF / spouse / lesbian lover.

    4. If you get girls who are good sports, its a great place to practice your game as a young man. Especially on slow nights. For a couple of overpriced drinks you can practice talking to a nearly naked girl who will give you very honest feedback on whether a given line would work or not in the real world. Like everywhere else, many of the employees don’t give a shit, so be prepared to get blown off if you aren’t buying lap dances, busy or slow. Also, bring a girl with you and everyone (including the dancers) will have a blast and you’ll have another great time when you go home.

      1. I would imagine that a decent number are available on demand, provided that the demand is accompanied by cash.

        1. Oh, sure. If you want to buy a lap dance every so often, you can have most of them. But they’re humans, too. Some nights they’d rather talk to a guy who doesn’t imply that their company is strictly for sale for half an hour than work the floor. I used to live next door to a stripper who was dating one of the bouncers, so I could get in free on slow nights. Bored strippers are just mostly naked bored women like you’d meet anywhere else. Only far more jaded.

          1. I went to one of Tampa’s galaxy-famous strip clubs while in college with some of my buddies (they specifically wanted to do a roadtrip down to Tampa for the purpose).

            We’d been out drinking a while (back then and maybe even now, no alcohol in full-nude establishments), and I’ve never been into stripclubs, anyway, so I sat and talked to this one dancer for quite some time. Just normal stuff, nothing about her profession, blah, blah, blah, then it hit me that I was having a normal conversation with a naked woman in public. Weird.

          2. I knew a guy who would hang out at the strip club. He referred to one of the girls as his sister. He actually thought she was his friend. I could tell she only shared his company because she was bored out of her mind. Dude was a bit of a creep. Don’t know whatever happened to him, nor do I care.

            1. I had a friend who used to date strippers. They’d treat him like shit, take his money, then go away. Never got the appeal.

              1. (cough)#HowIMetTheWife(cough)

                1. Did you meet her when she was doing the stripper thingee? I always thought it was later.

            2. He referred to one of the girls as his sister.

              That costs extra. Everywhere.

      2. For a couple of overpriced drinks you can practice talking to a nearly naked girl who will give you very honest feedback on whether a given line would work or not in the real world.

        When I have a girl naked, the last thing I am thinking about is talking to her.

        1. Exactly.

          1. Maybe if you guys stopped treating them like unicorns, you’d have better luck. There’s actually no expiration on the nudity. It can stay that way for as long as they want. Way more than the seven minutes you’re used to.

            1. So now you’re suggesting talking to a stripper can increase my stamina too? What can’t talking to one do!?

              1. What can’t talking to one do!?

                Increase your bank account

        2. When I have a girl naked, the last thing I am thinking about is talking to her.

          If you want to fuck her more than once (or more than zero if you haven’t closed the deal), then talking to her is a really good idea.

          And if you’re fucking women who you don’t enjoy talking to, you’re wasting your time and making it less hot.

    5. The worst part is your sitting there in a room full of a bunch of other horny guys with boners. No thanks.

      1. you’re*

    6. What, you don’t like looking at mostly nude women? You don’t like looking at mostly nude women unless you get to do something with them?

      Actually, I am not a big fan of strip clubs either, but for a different reason: every single one I’ve ever been to, I got the feeling that the object of the establishment was purely to drain me of cash as quickly as possible. While I can’t fault their naked capitalism, it doesn’t make for an environment you feel like going back to again.

    7. A little late but…

      I dated a couple strippers when I was in the Navy (yeah, I know).

      Many strip clubs effectively operate as referral services for prostitutes. Usually the higher-end clubs don’t allow prostitution on site, but arrangements for later meeting or “buying out” the girls’ shift so that sex can occur at another place. Nearly every girl I knew at least dabbled in prostitution or pornography.

      Last I checked on my last stripper ex she was making $400-$600 from stripping 3 days a week and 10 times that from hooking.

  2. I am all in favor of a poll tax. Pole taxes, on the other hand, are just wrong.

  3. Do they mean the pole that strippers use for their routines or is that some euphemism?

    1. Let’s not give Jezebel any ideas.

  4. Hell, the girls are lucky if they get $5 per patron.

    1. Not really an expert, but I would suppose it would depend on the charms of the individual girl, the shift, the type of club (upmarket vs downmarket), etc.

      But having said all that, this is an onerous tax. IOW, they know they can’t make pole dancing illegal per se, but they are trying to make it effectively impossible to run a profitable club. Much as a different set of nannies is trying to do with guns.

      1. No need to ban what can be regulated out of existence.

  5. Now if Texas Comptroller Susan Holmes is willing to show up on an amateur night…

      1. Sorry, “Combs.”

        1. There may be a material difference between these two women.

  6. I like that there is a stripper tag. I dislike that clicking on it doesn’t return more results. MORE WHORES DAMMIT

    1. That’s what taxes buy you–more whores.

      1. Whores are the civilization we pay for taxes.

        1. When taxes go up, more whores enter or directly associate with government. It’s a proven fact. This continues until the government and its allies are all whores, then there’s a revolution and it starts all over again.

          This is a well-understood concept in political science.

  7. I volunteer to team up with Ekins and poll a few strippers.

  8. In Comptroller Combs’ defense, she’s not the one who enacted this tax. More venom should be directed at the legislature.

  9. I wonder if the people pressing for this tax realize how many dancers (I always snicker at that euphemism) are actually college students, and that such a tax could hurt their meager income. Doubt it.

    1. What, she should be paying her way with student loans!

    2. Some women can actually work the hell out of a pole. Worth watching even if you’re not all that attracted to her.

  10. “Sexually Oriented Business Fee”

  11. Are bachelorette parties taxed per dick-shaped party favor?


  12. You’d never see something happen like this is in a freedom-loving state like Texas!

  13. At least Texas doesn’t tax the rain like “The Free State”.

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