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© 2004 Las Vegas Weddings.
All rights reserved.



 

The wedding chapels at the Strip resorts
do not yet have
drive-up service but offer every other conceivable amenity.

  Excerpt from LAS VEGAS WEDDINGS...

Kitschy, funky, depressing, romantic. Everyone has an opinion about Las Vegas weddings. With the exception of Las Vegas itself and, possibly, Elvis, it is about the only part of pop culture that draws an immediate, visceral response. Sometimes the reaction comes from personal experience. “My [sister, parents, best friend, or fill in the blank] got married there.” Other times it is based on images from the movies and television shows or from news coverage of the rich and famous who married in Las Vegas. But whether the perception is good, bad, or just plain ugly, Las Vegas weddings are not only part of pop culture, they are popular, too, and growing more so all the time.

The number of visitors to Las Vegas has increased five-fold to 36 million since 1970, and the number of marriage licenses issued by Clark County has tripled. Since the millennium more than 120,000 couples each year have said their vows in what used to be known for good reason as Sin City, and an estimated additional 40,000 to 50,000 couples have had renewal of vows ceremonies. That is about five percent of all weddings performed in the United States in a given year in a county that accounts for less than half a percent of the population of the country. With Las Vegas weddings becoming more formal and often attended by upwards of ten to 50 guests, the industry contributes approximately $1 billion dollars to the town’s $30 billion tourist economy, the remainder coming from gaming, entertainment, lodging, and dining.

All types of people for all sorts of reasons on a wide range of budgets get married in Las Vegas. The many venues for wedding services, over 50 by one count, make it possible to satisfy just about everyone. The freestanding, independent chapels north of the Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard live up to their anything-goes-attitude for the happy-go-lucky. The in-hotel chapels of the luxury resorts deliver on romance for the lucky-in-love. For something completely different, ceremonies in a helicopter or on horseback at Red Rock Canyon can be arranged. A growing trend is that of same-sex couples partaking in commitment ceremonies. Another trend, whereby an Elvis impersonator officiates, has been around for a while. Diversity is part and parcel of the wedding scene of Las Vegas today.

The history of Las Vegas weddings is no less varied or any less entertaining, particularly as it is intertwined with the history of Las Vegas itself. Movie stars and rock ‘n roll stars, gangsters and gamblers, and entrepreneurs and industrialists are part of the story. The first wedding on record was in 1909, four years after the founding of the dusty frontier town. The wedding industry got its first boost in 1912 when California enacted the so-called “gin law” developed to keep people from marrying drunk. Young couples in love who could not wait the required three days from getting their marriage license to saying their vows went across the state border instead. In 1933 a resourceful minister turned his home into a 24-hour a day wedding chapel “as a convenience to local and out-of-town brides and grooms.” Yet ironically, it took Clark Gable’s 1939 divorce to make Las Vegas a household name across the country.

Through the decades celebrity weddings have propelled Las Vegas’s popularity as a marriage mecca. Each and every one of them tells a tale about eternal love or marriage disaster, dashed hopes or dreams come true. The parade of stars across the desert began in 1930 with the wedding of William Boyd, better known to fans of early Westerns as Hopalong Cassidy. For his fourth, but not his last, marriage, he took a day off work, chartered a plane for the wedding party, and exchanged vows in a room in the National Hotel. More recently the quickie wedding and short marriage of pop star Britney Spears garnered headlines and captured the public’s attention, continuing to provide fodder for fan magazines and television talk shows long after it was over.

Las Vegas weddings are a phenomenon not quite like any other. The industry attracts cheers and jeers, but it touches a couple of hundred thousand people annually on the most important day of their lives. Let’s go to the chapel now and see what all the excitement’s about. Who knows, maybe even Elvis will be there.