A clip joint or fleshpot is an establishment, usually a strip club or night club (often claiming to offer adult entertainment or bottle service) in which customers are tricked into paying excessive amounts of money, for surprisingly low-grade goods or services—or sometimes, nothing—in return. Typically, clip joints suggest the possibility of sex, charge inflated prices for watered-down alcoholic drinks, and then throw out customers when they become unwilling or unable to spend more money. The products and services offered may be illegal, allowing the establishment to maintain such activities with little fear of punishment from law enforcement, since its victims cannot report the venue without admitting that they broke the law. Even in situations where no law was broken, victims may be too embarrassed to seek legal recourse.
In the United States, clip joints were widespread during the national prohibition of alcohol from 1920 to 1933, and the practice later became outlawed. For instance, the New York State Liquor Authority will impose penalties against any licensed premises permitting such conduct. Clip joints still operate openly in some areas of the world, such as Shanghai and Las Vegas, where they prey on visiting tourists.
A typical scenario involves a young adult male (typically a tourist) being approached by a beautiful woman (typically either a local or claiming to be) who recommends a "favorite local" bar or club. The man is usually seated at a table and joined by a "hostess," who may or may not order drinks. Whether or not any "services" are performed or drinks are ordered has little bearing on the outlandish bill received at the end of the night. Bills are commonly hundreds of dollars, listing things like a "hostess fee" or "service charge." The arrival of the bill typically corresponds with the arrival of a few large bouncers to ensure payment, sometimes leading the victim to an ATM to retrieve the money.
The beautiful woman or women who originally lured the mark to the location will often make an excuse and leave prior to the arrival of the bill. If confronted the establishment will claim that they have no connection with the woman and indicate that she arrived with the man, and as such the man is responsible for all of the items on the bill.
Often, a clip joint employee will wait near a legitimate club, and invite passing pedestrians into a VIP area. The potential customers are led to believe that the person works for the nearby club, though they may not explicitly say so. Once inside, drinks are usually alcohol free (as the venues usually do not have a license) or watered down and overpriced with no prices listed on the menu. As is typical, unrequested companions may also arrive at the table.
This scam is in a legal gray area if extortion is not explicitly involved, since there is no law against charging high prices and the customer is primarily responsible for determining the prices of services to be rendered before accepting them.
In the United Kingdom
A number of clip joints (or "near beer bars") still operate in London's Soho area, alongside legitimate strip bars. Since 2007, the London Local Authorities Act reclassified clip joints as sex establishments, meaning that they required relevant licences, closing a loophole where these businesses did not need a licence to operate because they did not serve food or alcohol or provide entertainment.
In 2009, two people were jailed for 36 and 14 months respectively after threatening an undercover police officer in a Soho clip joint.
Bottle service clubs
The Manhattan bottle service club Arena was sued in 2007 for their version of the clip joint scam. In December 2007, a patron knowingly purchased a $350 bottle of vodka, but was not told of a three bottle minimum. At the end of the night, he was presented with a $1050 tab that included two unordered bottles. When he refused to pay, the Arena bouncers beat him up. The patron agreed to get money from an ATM, but after the bouncers escorted him two blocks to a machine, his debit card was declined. The bouncers then dragged him back to the bar, where he was held until police arrived. He was arrested for theft of services but the charges were dismissed, and he later sued the club for $2 million.
- "Cracking down on clip joint scams". BBC News. 6 October 2009. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
- "Warnings Or Dangers: Shanghai. Hustlers, pimps and beggars". virtualtourist.com. 2 December 2006. Retrieved 30 May 2010.
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- "Tea Ceremony Scam in Shanghai". 30 April 2007. Retrieved 30 May 2010.
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- Huber, Craig (May 28, 2012). "Suspects identified in Vegas 'clip joint' bust". KVVU.
- Dostal, Erin; Jackie Valley (August 5, 2010). "20 arrested in alleged sex scam at Las Vegas businesses". Las Vegas Sun.
- Del, John (31 December 2007). "Roughed-Up Reveler Sues Club Over 3 Bottle Shakedown". Gothamist. Retrieved 10 September 2009.
- Soho clip joints
- NY Post article on Arena
- Soho clip joints to be forced out of business by police, Guardian story: dated 29 February 2004, accessed 16 September 2006
- Bottle Club Patron Roughed Up