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Lap dances are taxable, not art, N.Y. court rules

ALBANY, N.Y. — Lap dances are taxable because they do not promote culture in a community the way ballet or other artistic endeavors do, New York’s highest court concluded Tuesday in a sharply divided ruling.

The court split, 4-3, with the dissenting judges saying there is no distinction in state law between ‘‘highbrow dance and lowbrow dance,’’ so the case raises ‘‘significant constitutional problems.’’

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The lawsuit was filed by Nite Moves in suburban Albany, which was arguing that fees for admission to the strip club and for private dances are exempt from sales taxes.

The court majority said taxes apply to many entertainment venues, such as amusement parks and sporting events. It ruled the club has failed to prove it qualifies for the exemption for ‘‘dramatic or musical arts performances’’ that was adopted by the Legislature ‘‘with the evident purpose of promoting cultural and artistic performances in local communities.’’

The majority reached similar conclusions about admission fees to watch dances done onstage around a pole, as well as for lap dances or private dances.

W. Anderson McCullough, attorney for the club, said he and his client were bitterly disappointed by the ’ ruling.

If ice shows with intricately choreographed ice-dancing routines to music have not been regarded by lawmakers as qualifying, then it was ‘‘surely . . . not irrational’’ for the 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 exempt status,’’ wrote Judges Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, Victoria Graffeo, Eugene Pigott Jr., and Theodore Jones Jr.

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