'Til Death Do Us Part: The Las Vegas Wedding Industry
Couples come to Las Vegas seeking financial riches as well as a more metaphorical prosperity (cue the wedding bell soundtrack). And tourists aren't the only ones paying to have Elvis marry them. Locals use these chapels as well.
"We were looking for something quick and convenient, but also the Vegas kitsch factor,” says resident Christina Cain. “So we thought, why not do a drive-through wedding? We ended up going to the Tunnel of Love Drive Thru at the Little White Wedding Chapel, and it was perfect. We didn't even have to get out of the car."
Name Your Theme
Known as the Wedding Capital of the World, Clark County issues more than 100,000 marriage licenses each year, and nuptials bring an estimated $900 million into Las Vegas’ economy. That kind of cash adds a competitive edge to your wedding bliss.
That’s where variety comes in. Weddings run the gamut, ranging from tacky (AstroTurf carpet in storefront chapels) to elegant (waterfront at Lake Las Vegas) and everything in between. Looking for a quickie? Try the Tunnel of Love at A Little White Chapel. Feeling all shook up? There are ceremonial Elvises aplenty (along with themes like graveyard, gangster, Egyptian and more) at Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel. For something more adventurous, you can get married on a pirate ship at Treasure Island or in a helicopter over the Las Vegas Strip or Grand Canyon or Valley of Fire.
Las Vegas has weddings for all preferences and price points. And these days, you don’t even have to invite your guests along. They’re there in virtual spirit, thanks to the webcasts that many chapels offer.
The New Shotgun Wedding
Of course, the wedding industry isn’t always filled with eternal love. You’ve heard of shotgun weddings? In recent years, Vegas has given a new meaning to the term. Before you put on your Kevlar, know that nothing violent or threatening has happened to a married (or unmarried) couple. But if you’re getting your marriage license, it’s likely you’ll witness at least a moment of friction.
It all begins in an area known as The Pit, which is located in front of the county’s marriage bureau. Here, chapel-employed handbillers compete to get prospective newlyweds to visit their chapel. Walking past is like running the gauntlet, as the handbillers shout out prices and packages and shove fliers at passersby. A few years ago, the gauntlet escalated into an all-out war.
It began in 2003. A minister was assaulted in an alley. A chapel employee was beaten in his hotel room. An alleged hitman claimed he was being paid by one chapel to wreak havoc on another. Threats, harassment and assault were regular occurrences. The violence mellowed out in 2007, when the Las Vegas City Council revoked the license of A Las Vegas Garden of Love, the chapel that was consistently at the center of the imbroglios. For now, the friction has simmered down, at least as far as the industry is concerned.
Divorce Capital of the World?
Friction with couples, on the other hand, is always a different story. Divorce remains an active Las Vegas industry, too. See, it’s not just weddings that have made Las Vegas famous. Since 1911, the state has had some of the most liberal divorce requirements in the country: Couples need to live here just six weeks to qualify as residents and legally file for divorce. Divorce used to be a cottage industry. Ranches, like the historic one found at Floyd Lamb State Park, were established so the less-than-blissful couples could live out their six-week residency requirement while being wined, dined and entertained.
Though ranches no longer target the divorce demographic, Las Vegas still has the occasional Britney Spears and Nicky Hilton come along to keep marriage, and its dissolution, a prominent part of the Las Vegas legend.