LINCOLN — Nineteen state senators gathered in a show of support Wednesday for legislation that would regulate bottle clubs, like the Omaha strip club near 72nd and Dodge where nude dancing is featured.
State Sen. Theresa Thibodeau of Omaha, who has been pushing the issue this year, won approval of a compromise amendment on Tuesday that would require bottle clubs to obtain state “bottle club” licenses, which would be reviewed by a local city council or county board and then approved by the State Liquor Control Commission.
Currently, bottle clubs — private clubs where members can bring their own “bottle” of liquor or beer — are not regulated by the state.
Thibodeau, along with Sens. Patty Pansing Brooks and Suzanne Geist, both of Lincoln, said at a noon press conference that bottle clubs that allow nude dancing and allow customers to touch dancers in private rooms are places ripe for sex trafficking.
Thibodeau said she believes it amounts to prostitution when a customer can pay money to touch a dancer on her buttocks and breasts.
Shane Harrington, the owner of the Omaha bottle club, has rejected such claims and has said that his employees closely monitor dancers to make sure that they are not being forced to perform by managers or pimps. He maintains that his clubs comply with all laws and provide a safe and private place for adult entertainment.
On Tuesday, he said he probably would follow through with his threat to sue the State Legislature if it passes a law regulating his clubs in Omaha and Hastings. He also said he was planning to open a new club in Omaha’s Old Market area sometime this year.
Thibodeau, who was appointed to the Legislature last year by Gov. Pete Ricketts, is in a three-way race with Ricky Fulton and Machaela Cavanaugh for the District 6 seat in west-central Omaha.
Legislative Bill 1120, the bill that now contains the bottle club rules, still needs to pass two rounds of debate and obtain the approval of Ricketts to become law.