Along with “Entertainment Capital of the World,” Las Vegas often is billed (by itself and outsiders) as the “Wedding Capital of the World.” But as we sit here in the heart of nuptial season, there’s a white dress in the room that needs to be addressed: Our slice of the cake seems to be shrinking, as the number of marriage licenses issued in Clark County has steadily fallen for the past decade.
Then again, perhaps we’re just not seeing the whole plate.
Today’s Vegas weddings involve more than one day, two rings and a handful of rice. Sometimes our wedding industry profits years after the initial “I do’s,” as in couples topping off an anniversary visit with a vow renewal. Or it starts long before the bouquets, as evidenced by our city’s increasingly brisk business as a bachelor- and bachelorette-party destination—media outlets from CNN to Glamour to AskMen.com has declared our city the top spot for that last fling with freedom. If anything, the Las Vegas marriage biz isn’t going bust; it’s just becoming a broader picture.
“The amount of [Vegas] weddings has been in decline over the last several years—but weddings have been in decline across the country,” says Joni Moss-Graham of the Nevada Wedding Association. The exception, she says, has been the number of couples rededicating their love for one another, whether by experiencing the walk down the aisle they always wanted or the ceremonial Elvis they couldn’t get away with the first time. “The part that never is included [in statistical data] is the renewal of vows, because they do not necessitate any documents,” Moss-Graham says. “We had 80,000 to 90,000 weddings in Nevada last year, with another 20 percent of renewals.”
Moss-Graham notes that the average Las Vegas wedding expenditure is about $500. She also acknowledges that bachelor and bachelorette parties do bring extra wallets to the bash. “It’s a good piece of economics, but because it’s not ‘the wedding,’ it’s not tied into that.”
Anyone who has spent a weekend roaming the Strip or Downtown over the past several years can vouch for the increase in groups of women wearing “bridesmaid” sashes and sipping from plastic penises, as well as tables of guys getting one last Hangover on. Dan Nunes, owner of Vegas VIP, says bachelor and bachelorette packages account for a significant portion of his business—and he credits the spike to a brilliant piece of free marketing. “‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,’” he says. “That catchphrase went hand-in-hand with people coming to Vegas for bachelor and bachelorette parties—‘I’m getting married, I’ll commit myself to you, but when we go to Vegas, we’ll do what we’re gonna do, and it’ll stay there.’
“A bachelor or bachelorette party [is] a commodity. For every one of those bachelor parties, guys are going to go out and spend money—whether at a bar, skydiving, [renting] a limo, whatever.”
And while this is the 21st century, when it comes to these final Vegas flings, men are still outspending women. “Girls’ packages average around $129 per girl,” Nunes says. “The guys used to be around $200, but because of the bigger nightclubs and men gravitating toward bottle service, now they average around $250 a guy.” When you multiply that by 5-10 people in a group, it doesn’t take long for the tab to surpass four figures.
So, yes, while the number of actual marriages remains in decline, it’s clear Las Vegas is far from becoming a ghost town of little white chapels. We also need to keep things in perspective: According to Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority spokeswoman Courtney Fitzgerald, 3 percent of the more than 41 million visitors who passed through our turnstiles last year stated that a wedding was the primary purpose for their trip.
That still equates to about 1.23 million visitors. And, hey, if one of those brides-to-be or future grooms gets a little too randy while in town, we’ll keep their secret—even if they choose to tie the knot back in Poughkeepsie.