No doubt almost every American alive today has heard the famed slogan, “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.” It is an ingenious marketing pitch, and one that Sin City has exploited for decades to attract tourists.

Amsterdam – with its notorious Red-Light District and permissive drug laws – has cultivated a similar image as the “Las Vegas of Europe”, which it also markets to American tourists quite successfully.

Yet while these cities have, to a large extent, earned their reputations as carefree ‘playgrounds’ for those wishing to let loose in, shall we say, less societally-accepted ways, the reality is both that their implied anarchy is significantly overblown and that security clearance holders can forget about partaking in it anyway.


That’s because, among other reasons, there is no “Amsterdam exception” to drug use for clearance holders. Indeed, I’ve seen many cases where a clearance holder erroneously thought they could try marijuana or other drugs in Amsterdam without repercussion because the drug use was legal in that country. As they later discover during their next periodic re-investigation, that assumption was a mistake – although often a mitigatable one.

A similar principle applies to people who use marijuana in a state where that drug has been legalized for recreational use at the state level. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law and the adjudicative guidelines for security clearances make no distinction for legalization under state law.


Prostitution, on the other hand, is actually illegal in Clark County, Nevada – the location of Las Vegas – but it is legalized in the state’s more rural counties to the North of the city, as it is legalized in Amsterdam. Nonetheless, even where legal under local law, I’ve seen federal agencies go after clearance holders with a vengeance for solicitation of prostitution both domestically and abroad based on a U.S. Attorney General’s guidance memorandum to federal employees.

The memo, which is several years old now, explicitly prohibits federal employees from engaging in prostitution transactions under the theory that doing so furthers human trafficking. I’ve also seen the issue of solicitation while abroad raised within the context of a potential blackmail concern, as several hostile nations have been known to entrap U.S. security clearance holders into sexually compromising situations, document the encounter by photographs and/or video, then use that as leverage for espionage purposes.

Note that there is also law in force which makes the travel by U.S. citizens overseas for the solicitation of minors for prostitution a federal crime.


Finally, if you’re visiting Las Vegas it’s hopefully for nothing more dicey than the gambling (pun intended). There is no rule or policy that prevents security clearance holders from recreational gambling, but keep in mind that gambling of the compulsive variety – or gambling that results in delinquent debt – may quickly become a security concern and thus decidedly not “stay in Vegas.”

The best advice I can offer here is to set a pre-determined and reasonable threshold for loss on any given day of your Las Vegas trip. Once you hit that number, stop playing and move on to another activity like the pool. Chasing losses is a dangerous strategy that can quickly snowball to a point of no return.


Ultimately, both Las Vegas and Amsterdam have much more to offer than drugs, sex, and gambling. But if you’re a security clearance holder after one of those three, make sure you think through the career ramifications very carefully before acting. Better yet, wait until you retire.

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Security Clearance Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials and revocations. He is a former investigator for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For more information, please visit