Illinois considering new ‘pole tax’ for strip clubs

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois already charges so-called sin taxes on smokes, booze and casino gambling. Now state lawmakers are thinking about imposing a $5 skin tax to get into strip clubs.

Club owners are in an uproar, arguing that the tax might put smaller strip joints out of business and throw dancers, bartenders, bouncers and valet attendants out of work. They worry some customers already are fed up with admission fees, let alone taxes on top.

“We wouldn’t want that,” said Tiffany Winkler, manager of the Chicago club the Pink Monkey.

The Admiral Theatre is “strongly opposed to the proposed pole tax,” said Sam Cecola, the North Side club’s director of operations.

But state Sen. Toi Hutchinson said she’s sponsoring the bill to raise money for rape crisis counseling. Businesses that profit from selling booze and skin should help aid victims of sex crimes, she said.

“My kids are growing up in a different age, a different time, and I want the communities that they live in to be safe for them,” said Hutchinson. “We all need to be working toward a society that understands violence against women is inappropriate in all circumstances and all times.”

The legislation is in an early form and could change, but it would require strip club owners who serve or allow liquor to be consumed on the premises to pay the $5-a-person tax. The money would go into a special new state sexual assault prevention fund, and the state would make grants to organizations that provide community-based programs designed to reduce sexual assault or help to crime victims.

Micheal Ocello, president of the Illinois Club Owners Association, hailed Hutchinson for “trying to do something good” by raising money to support sexual assault prevention and awareness groups. But Ocello said he cannot find proof “that going to an adult club causes people to go out and commit rape, commit crimes.”

Ocello, who oversees about 500 workers at five strip clubs in Illinois near St. Louis, suggested the smaller clubs throughout Illinois could be forced to shut down if the tax were approved.

The club owners have a powerful lobbyist who said he’ll look for common ground.

“I think $5 is an absolute industry killer,” said Chicago lobbyist Al Ronan, a former lawmaker. “At some point, we’re going to try to come in with an alternative plan … with money for the state coming from our industry. … We’re not out to kill it. We’re out to do it right.”

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