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Lap dances now subject to sales tax, NY high court rules

ALBANY -- Lap dances at strip clubs aren't exempt from sales taxes, New York's high court ruled Tuesday in a 4-3 decision.

In a case pitting an Albany-area strip club against the state Tax Appeals Tribunal, the Court of Appeals said cover charges and fees for "private dances" are taxable.

The majority of judges said the club's claim that "dramatic or musical arts performances" were tax-exempt was "irrational." The Tax Tribunal sought to collect $125,000 in sales taxes from "Night Moves," a club in suburban Latham.

"Clearly, it is not irrational for the Tax Tribunal to decline to extend a tax exemption to every act that declares itself a 'dance performance,'" the majority wrote.

"If ice shows presenting . . . ice dancing performances, with intricately choreographed dance moves precisely arranged to musical compositions, were not viewed by the [state] Legislature as 'dance' entitled to a tax exemption, surely it was not irrational for the Tax Tribunal to conclude that a club presenting performances by women gyrating on a pole to music, however artistic or athletic their practiced moves are, was also not a qualifying performance entitled to tax-exempt status," the four judges concluded.

Judges Carmen Ciparick, Victoria Graffeo, Eugene Pigott and Theodore Jones comprised the majority.

The dissenters included two conservative members of the court, Robert Smith and Susan Read, and one of the most liberal, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

The dissenters likened "pole dancing" to "other lowbrow forms of entertainment such as baseball games and animal acts" in that the state Legislature never said such performances specifically were taxable. Therefore, they said, the Tribunal had no authority to go after strip clubs.

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