Though a select few feel strongly that there is no act more sacred than the lap dance, that select few does not include the New York Supreme Court, who ruled in a 4-3 majority decision Tuesday that lap dances do not qualify for the same tax exemption as other “dramatic or musical arts performances” do, like a Madonna concert or a Broadway show, according to The New York Times.
The ruling stems from a 2005 audit of the Nite Moves strip club in Latham, New York. After an investigation, the state demanded $124,921 from unpaid sales taxes on cover charges and “performance fees,” here construed to mean private dances.
Nite Moves owners, however, refused to cough up the cash, claiming the sensual, behind-closed-doors dances were “choreographed performances,” and thus exempt from a sales tax.
Before their defeat yesterday, Nite Moves owners had previously lost in the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, which took a similar stance to those of the New York Supreme Court’s justices.
Yesterday’s decision wasn’t exactly rendered in unison, however. One judge, Robert B. Smith, was particularly unnerved by the court’s potentially patrician view of performance.
While he acknowledged that the performance tax exemption “assumes that ‘choreography’ includes all ‘dance routines’ — it does not matter what kind of dancing is being done,” he also effaced himself and admitted that he was stuffy enough to find the dances “distasteful.”
These kind of distinctions, he said, create perplexing and troubling constitutional loopholes.
“Perhaps for similar reasons,” he wrote, “I do not read Hustler magazine; I would rather read The New Yorker. I would be appalled, however, if the state were to exact from Hustler a tax that The New Yorker did not have to pay, on the ground that what appears in Hustler is insufficiently ‘cultural and artistic.’ That sort of discrimination on the basis of content would surely be unconstitutional.”
The majority judges felt that like non-tax exempt arenas, such as amusement parks and sports games, lap dances fail to promote "cultural and artistic performances in local communities," thus they should incur a sales tax.
Such is the case with New York state sales taxes, where a sliced bagel is taxed, but a whole one is exempt, or where circuses don’t bear the burden of an extra tax, but magic shows do.
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