How Las Vegas Became the Quick Wedding Capital of the World

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One recent morning in Las Vegas, Charolette richards, owner of A Little White Wedding Chapel, sat at her desk exhausted after presiding over the longest wedding ceremony of her life.

“It took me an hour to do this wedding,” she said Agitation. “I’ve never done it in an hour. 10.15 minutes – that’s what they usually run.

At 86, Richards has, by her own count, officiated tens of thousands of weddings in the nearly 7 decades she has served as a chapel minister in downtown Las Vegas Boulevard.

Richards is one of dozens of chapel operators lining Las Vegas Blvd., profiting from the area’s shotgun wedding industry.

Today, weddings are an integral part of Las Vegas’ economy: wedding tourism accounts for nearly $ 2 billion of the city’s annual tourism industry of $ 58 billion and generates approximately 18,000 jobs.

The casual, kitsch 10-minute ceremonies offered by A Little White Wedding Chapel – dubbed “quick” weddings for their efficiency – are the bread and butter of the Las Vegas wedding industry.

How did Las Vegas become the quick wedding capital of the world? Are Shotgun Weddings Still Profitable Today? And is there a future for 15-minute weddings in the growing marriage economy?

A Brief History of Vegas Weddings

Easy, no-frills weddings have been a part of Nevada history since the early 1900s.

Unlike other states, Nevada has waived blood testing and required waiting periods intended to deter couples from getting married while intoxicated, making it an especially popular wedding destination for California couples. who are looking to get married as quickly as possible.

A Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas (Andia / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

But it wasn’t until 1931 that weddings became a staple of Las Vegas’ fledgling tourism industry.

That year, state officials passed bills legalizing gambling and shortening the time period during which couples could divorce, establishing the state as what a 1931 report in the Nevada State Journal called of “first in the service of unsuccessful marriages”.

By the mid-1930s, Las Vegas was quickly becoming known not only as a gambling city, but also as a city that offered the easiest route into (or out of) marriage in the United States.

State officials had a clear incentive to make Nevada’s marriage and divorce requirements as lenient as possible.

“Frankly, it was about attracting tourists and trying to make Las Vegas an attractive destination by giving people any reason to visit,” said David Schwartz, who teaches Nevada history at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

The happy newlyweds and the unhappy divorcees who flocked to Las Vegas had one thing in common: They both spent money at the city’s brand new casinos and hotels.

Windows driving, Elvis impersonators, and 24-hour service: scenes from the Las Vegas wedding industry (Getty Images)

To capitalize on the wave of wedding tourism, the city opened a marriage license office in the railway depot and kept its doors open until midnight.

On weekends and holidays the office was open 24 hours a day, a practice that continued until 2006. In 1941, Las Vegas had issued 21k marriage licenses, up from 5.3k issued just 2 years earlier.

Steps from the marriage license office, wedding chapels have started opening their doors to celebrate the weddings of hundreds of couples with newly issued marriage licenses.

As early as 1933, an enterprising minister was documented transforming his home into a 24-hour chapel to marry couples day and night.

The city’s wedding scene soon attracted the attention of celebrities.

In 1954, box office star Kirk Douglass married Hollywood publicist Anne Buydens at the Sahara Hotel. Four years later, actors Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward married at the late El Rancho.

Agitation

Slowly but surely, Las Vegas began to redefine the cultural characterization of weddings.

“[Las Vegas] took weddings, which can be heart-wrenching, solemn and serious matters, and made them into something fun and irreverent, ”Schwartz said.

A $ 2 billion business

Richards, the octogenarian owner of the Little White Wedding Chapel, was among the first chapel owners to capitalize on this irreverence in the 1950s, building a drive-thru for all couples wishing to celebrate their nuptials in a timely manner.

Richard’s company operates between 600 to 800 weddings per month on average, at a starting price of $ 75. On holidays and days with memorable dates, the chapel can bring more business.

On 07-07-07, for example, Richards married 557 couples in just 24 hours.

Like other downtown chapels, Richard’s business faces stiff competition not only from the dozens of other downtown chapels, but also from the many hotels and golf courses that have started to appear. provide their own wedding services on site.

A more recent entrant to the Las Vegas wedding scene is the Mobile minister, a one-man wedding service run by the minister and Elvis impersonator Roland August who marries couples at scenic spots in town like Red Rock and the Bellagio Fountains.

Roland August performs at an engagement ceremony in 2007 (Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

Roland, who has worked in the Las Vegas wedding industry for the past 15 years, has seen a dramatic change in the way chapels operate with the advent of internet advertising and review sites.

While the quick wedding experience assembly line has not worked well at review sites, many chapels must continue to operate at high volume if they are to hope to turn a profit.

“The overhead costs are astronomical,” August said. “Not only do they rent the chapel and have a limousine team with 5 or 6 limousines they rent, but they also spend a lot of money to run their business on the Internet.

A downtown chapel where Roland previously worked has passed $ 20,000 / month on Google Adwords which made the rounds 80% of their reservations.

“With all of these things going on, you have to have over 200 weddings a month just to survive,” he said.

Image: Getty / Data: Clark County

Some chapels like the Little church in the west, founded in 1941, has gone from quantity to quality.

The chapel now only marries one couple at a time and has designed its parking lot and entrances so that a bride who walks in will never see another bride.

“The idea is that if you do the right thing for people and give them a great experience, it will be reflected in the reviews online,” said Daniel Vallance, director of operations of the chapel.

What the future holds for Sin City weddings

Today, new generations are redefining the Vegas wedding experience, with weddings among millennials recently becoming a growing economic driver, the Clark County Clerk said. Lynn goya.

“[Millennials will] rent a cabin, take a tour, go to nightclubs and buy a bottle of vodka for $ 800 when they normally wouldn’t. ”

Las Vegas may still have to adapt to accommodate new generations and their wedding expectations.

There has also been a sharp drop in demand for weddings in Las Vegas: in 2004, Clark County released 128k marriage licenses; since then the number of marriage licenses has steadily declined to around 70k on average per year.

A young couple celebrate their wedding in Vegas at the height of the pandemic in 2020 (DAVID BECKER / AFP via Getty Images)

For some, the Vegas “quickie” wedding may soon be a relic of the past.

“A lot of the older chapels have a model based on a very large volume,” Vallance said. “And this volume is decreasing.”

Yet the reality remains that there will always be a business for quick, cheap and easy weddings.

“10 to 15 minutes of staring someone in the eye seems a lot longer than you might think,” Vallance continued. “I’ve been married twice, so I know. “


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