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Image: Lance Gilman, Susan Austin
Andy Barron  /  AP
Brothel owner Lance Gilman, seen here in 2007, became the first brothel owner to win election to public office in Nevada since prostitution was legalized in 1972.
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updated 11/19/2012 7:44:35 AM ET 2012-11-19T12:44:35

Lance Gilman is a thriving businessman with dozens of employees. That those workers include a good many prostitutes did not faze the people of a rural Nevada county who 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. And he's believed to be the first to do so in the state's 148-year history

"He's in rare company," 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."

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

'Dye-in-the-wool Republican'
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.

His claims that his bordello, located along Interstate 80 some 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 girls, depending on the season.

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

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," Gilman said.

More local coverage from NBC affiliate KRNV-News

'Longstanding libertarian tradition'
Mustang Ranch became the state's first legal brothel — and most infamous — under former owner Joe Conforte. Heavyweight boxer Oscar Bonavena was slain there in 1976.

Image: Mustang Ranch bordello
Debra Reid  /  AP, file
Lance Gilman bought the Mustang Ranch bordello and moved it a short distance to be next to his Wild Horse Adult Resort & Spa east of Reno.

The cathouse 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.

Story: Last Mustang Ranch building destroyed

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 operation, which includes the two houses of prostitution, two restaurants and a nightclub, now operates under the Mustang Ranch name.

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"His election speaks to the acceptance of prostitution in rural Nevada, where it's just understood," Rocha said. "It goes back to a longstanding libertarian tradition, and laws reflect that. It's different in urban Nevada, where prostitution is a mixed, controversial bag."

Last year, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., took aim at the world's oldest profession, telling state lawmakers the time has come to have an adult conversation about Nevada's legal sex trade if the state hopes to succeed in the 21st century.

When the nation thinks about Nevada, Reid said, "it should think about the world's newest ideas and newest careers -- not about its oldest profession."

Sen. Harry Reid suffers minor injuries in Las Vegas car crash

Gilman maintains illegal prostitution is rampant across the country, and it makes more sense to legalize and regulate it. He said bordellos pay significant taxes to rural counties and the women are regularly checked by doctors.

"I use the term caregivers for our industry," Gilman said. "The public has no idea, but so many of the men we deal with are damaged or widowed or in need of kindness. The industry is so much more about providing care and human nurturing than anything else."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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