February 2, 2012

Kansas City strip club tests limits of Missouri nudity law

Bazooka’s, an adult entertainment venue in downtown Kansas City, now offers videos of its nude and seminude dancers on large, flat-screen televisions adjacent to the stage. While a dancer performs live with her intimate areas covered, as the law requires, a video of the same dancer — with those areas exposed — appears on the screens.

“We’ve always been in the entertainment business,” said Dick Snow, Bazooka’s owner. “It adds to our entertainment. The customers like it. Sometimes we get applause.”

The latest strategy may help the business sidestep a new state law requiring “sexually oriented businesses” to close at midnight. Last November, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld that restriction and several others in rulings that adult club owners said crippled their business.

The video screens — billed as “Bazooka’s TV” — were installed in mid-January, one former employee said. Two reporters for The Kansas City Star recently observed the entertainment at the club.

Not all the dancers perform on video. And those who do are not always completely unclothed, although their breasts and genital areas were visible when reporters visited.

Had the dancers exposed those areas in the flesh they would have broken the law, or at least forced the club to close at midnight. But because they appeared on screen, Snow said, they’re as legal as a general-interest movie.

“There is some full frontal nudity in these videos, but there’s full frontal nudity in every theater in the city,” he said.

Dick Bryant, an attorney who represents adult businesses, said, “The projection of the images of the nude dancers fully complies with the statutes and the U.S. Constitution.”

Others aren’t so sure.

Missouri’s law states that sexually oriented businesses include “adult motion picture theater(s),” and are subject to the early closing time and other rules. The law further defines such a theater as a place where films emphasizing parts of the anatomy or sexual activities are “regularly shown” to audiences of five or more people.

Phillip Cosby, executive director of the American Family Association of Kansas and Missouri, which helped draft the law, said that means Bazooka’s may still be a sexually oriented business and be improperly open past midnight.

“We anticipated these creative props to try and circumvent the law,” Cosby said. “We will pursue it and see if we can get some remedy.”

Scott Bergthold, a Tennessee lawyer who helped write the law and defend it in court, declined to comment on the development, as did former state Sen. Matt Bartle, a Lee’s Summit Republican who sponsored the bill in the General Assembly.

A spokesman for the Kansas City Police Department said the department had received no complaints about Bazooka’s videos and said it did not appear that the establishment was violating any local or state laws.

State Rep. Mike Talboy, a Kansas City Democrat whose district includes Bazooka’s, also said he didn’t think the club was violating the law with its new video setup. He said he had no plans to try to change the law.

And state Sen. Jolie Justus, a Kansas City Democrat, said she hadn’t examined the law lately to know whether the videos are a violation. “I would suspect if someone thinks there is a problem, they can address it through the appropriate channels,” Justus said.

However, she said she objected to the law regulating adult clubs because Kansas City — not the state — should have the authority to regulate its own businesses.

It isn’t known how widespread the use of video at adult clubs is or whether it will spread.

Joe Spinello of the Shady Lady Lounge in Kansas City said he isn’t using videos of dancers, but applauded Bazooka’s for its ingenuity.

“I don’t think that’s a bad idea on his part,” he said. “What’s he got to lose? I don’t think the state legislature wants to jump into censorship on that level.”

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