By Ed Payne, CNN
(CNN) — What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas — unless you’re Prince Harry and TMZ publishes pictures of you cavorting naked during a game of strip billiards.
The tabloid website posted the photos online Tuesday night. It said the romp featuring the royal, who is third in line to the throne, took place four days earlier at a “high rollers hotel suite” on the Las Vegas strip.
One photo shows Harry, stark naked but for a wristwatch and a necklace. His hands cup his genitals. His face is turned toward the television set in the suite. And his body partially shields that of another person, also naked.
A second picture shows him hugging a woman from behind next to a pool table. Both are naked.
“Harry, along with a large entourage, went down to the hotel bar and met a bunch of hot chicks … and invited them up to his VIP suite,” said TMZ, which like CNN is a Time Warner company.
Palace officials confirmed the photos are of the prince, but declined to comment further.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper website said the publication of the photographs “risks embarrassing Buckingham Palace and raises questions about the prince’s security arrangements.”
The website of the Daily Mail, a middlebrow tabloid, suggested that “Harry needed a rest after all that Olympic duty but it appears the fun may have got out of hand.”
Neither website ran the photos, but the images quickly circulated worldwide, providing plenty of fodder on Twitter.
“The Queen must be sooo proud that Prince Harry showed us his crown jewels!!!! Lol,” said Danielle Monaro, part of the Elvis Duran And The Morning Show, a syndicated radio program.
“Prince William shows his cojones by rescuing stranded women in the ocean. Prince Harry shows his cojones by, well, showing his cojones,” tweeted Jennifer Burke with Canada’s CTV network.
Last week, William helped save a teenage girl who was in danger of drowning off the coast of Wales in his role as Royal Air Force search and rescue pilot.
The 16-year-old girl was caught in a rip current and rapidly losing strength when the rescue team was called out.
William, known to his RAF comrades as Flight Lt. Wales, has been stationed at a search-and-rescue base on the remote Welsh island of Anglesey since 2010, and lives there with Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.
His younger brother, 27-year-old Harry, is no stranger to controversy.
In 2002, Harry faced accusations of under-age drinking and cannabis use. The young prince was a 16-year-old schoolboy at the time of the alleged incident
The allegations were made in the UK tabloid News of the World newspaper, which also reported his father, Prince Charles, had taken Harry to a drug rehabilitation clinic to alert him to the dangers of drug abuse.
He did not faces charges because police found no evidence to support them.
In 2005, photos of Harry were splashed across the front page of The Sun newspaper wearing a Nazi soldier’s uniform to a fancy dress party, accompanied by the headline “Harry the Nazi.”
He later apologized for the incident.
“I am very sorry if I caused any offense,” Harry said.
Four years later, Harry issued another apology after videos surfaced showing him using offensive language to describe members of his military unit.
In one clip, a voice said to be Harry’s calls a soldier a “Paki,” a derogatory term for people of South Asian descent.
In another clip, the voice tells a soldier wearing a cloth on his head that he looks “like a raghead,” another offensive term for someone who wears a headdress.
Now comes this latest controversy — one that certainly gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “hanging out.”