weather icon Clear

Las Vegas working to rebrand wedding destination

Inside the Little Vegas Chapel, Amanda Schild was smiling in her wedding dress, ready to grab pizza and celebrate her nuptials with her now-husband Jordan Williams.

But there was no drive-thru window or Elvis Presley impersonator in sight. The only keepsake the newlyweds had of a stereotypical Vegas wedding were the handful of photos taken in front of the chapel’s own version of the Welcome to Las Vegas neon sign.

Williams, 30, admits Las Vegas has the stigma of a place to “get wasted and get married and then get divorced the next day.” But Schild said they chose Vegas because it was affordable and convenient. Plus, they’ve been together for nine years and have three children.

“I don’t like the details of planning a big wedding,” Schild, 33, said. “That’s just not for me.”

Williams was coming from Minnesota to Las Vegas for work and he brought up the idea of getting married in Las Vegas, Schild said.

“That sounded perfect,” she said.

Tourists and locals alike are making what one expert calls “smarter marriage choices” from dating longer to ensuring financial stability before getting married. The shift has fueled a decline in marriage rates — and the wedding industry — across the country and also means Las Vegas is feeling the impact as a wedding destination. At the same time, these decisions are contributing to longer marriages than previous generations as divorce rates continue to slide.

“Marriage used to be something that people did when they were younger and just getting started, and they and their partner moved through life together,” Karen Guzzo, professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University, said. “Now…it’s the last thing you do when you are becoming an adult—what we call like a capstone or an achievement.”

That was the case for newlyweds Patrick McFarland, 45, and Melissa Hill, 50, who dated for seven years and lived together before deciding to tie the knot two weeks ago at the Little Church of the West, east of Mandalay Bay, while visiting from Florida.

“We’ve been together forever it seems, but yeah, we did the career (first) as well as bought our first house three years ago, so the evolution is where are we in the next stage,” Hill said.

Downward slope

While a thoughtful approach to marriage is beneficial for couples, the wedding industry is feeling the impact.

The number of marriage licenses in Clark County has dropped close to 42 percent since its peak 2004, when about 128,000 licenses were issued compared with 71,800 in 2019, according to the Clark County Marriage License Bureau. Clark County Clerk Lynn Goya, who oversees the bureau, said local weddings are a $2.5 billion industry. The Review-Journal previously reported the local industry hit a peak of $3.1 billion in 2004.

Nevada’s marriage rate, measured as the number of new marriages per 1,000 people, dropped to 26.7 in 2018, the states’s lowest rate since the Centers for Disease Control began providing marriage rate figures in 1990. That year the national marriage rate also dropped to its lowest level of 6.5 per 1,000 people from a peak of 8.5 in 2000.

Guzzo said it’s likely because people are taking their time, opting to foster their careers first then move-in with their partner to test the waters.

“That sometimes drives the marriage rate (down), but it does seem like fewer people ultimately end up getting married than prior generations,” she said, pointing out it’s more socially acceptable for couples to live together first. “Spending longer time together in these kinds of serious relationships, you avert, if you married this person, a divorce down the road. You can live together and say, ‘You know what? This is not going to work,’ (and) break up.”

There’s little reliable data on couples who live together since, unlike marriage, there’s no legal registration required. However, Guzzo said declining divorce rates could be an indicator that waiting to get married is proving beneficial. But she added those who do get married tend to be college-educated couples, a group that’s consistently shown lower divorce rates.

University of Maryland sociology professor Philip Cohen, who released a study last year on divorce trends from 2008 to 2017, said couples who wait longer are less likely to get divorced.

“That rising age of marriage is definitely a factor in the falling divorce rate,” he said. “The other thing that goes along with that is higher education. So there’s more people who are not getting married before or until they have completed a college degree.”

The divorce and annulments rate in the U.S., per 1,000 people, fell to 2.9 in 2018, marking a consistent decline since 2000, when the divorce rate was 4.0, according to the CDC. Meanwhile, Nevada has also dipped to 4.4 from a high of 9.9 in 2000.

But Cohen cautions that it’s not necessarily good news.

“Essentially, marriage is becoming more of an elite institution,” he said. “The falling divorce rate is not necessarily good news for society as a whole even if you think marriage is great. It sort of indicates that marriages is becoming more rarefied. It’s more of a select population that enters into marriage and they enter into a more stable marriage.”


Las Vegas Wedding Chamber of Commerce President Jodi Harris said the nearly 100-member group is working together to find ways to boost the marriage rate.

In March 2016, the chamber launched a partnership with the Clark County Clerk’s office and the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority to promote wedding tourism in Las Vegas.

Goya, who serves on the wedding chamber board, said steps have been taken to shed the perception of Las Vegas as an elopement capital.

“We have been seen as ‘The Hangover.’ and that’s not a great brand,” she said. “It’s a great movie and it’s really funny, but it’s not a place you want to emulate to go get married. So, what we’re seeing this year is we have really turned around our image. It’s starting to make a difference.”

Plans by the clerk’s office are in the works to promote and reshape how the wedding industry is perceived in Las Vegas over the next couple years, especially as the city is on track to host its 5 millionth wedding in 2021.

Goya said plans entail working with the Nevada State History Museum to create a wedding retrospective to show how Vegas became a wedding capital as well as creating wedding-themed walking tours. Plans are also in the works with the visitors authority on promotions, such as a photo contest “that can really showcase the new Las Vegas wedding.” Goya also noted an idea, in conjunction with Las Vegas City Councilwoman Olivia Diaz, to designate a portion of the Strip as “Wedding Way.”

Diaz said the timeline is still being hashed out but the hope is to make it a tourist attraction, even adding a wedding walk of fame.

“I think this is another thing that can capture the attention of the newer generation, who are being more thoughtful about where they want to visit and why the want to go visit a place,” Diaz said. “We think by creating something new they will be intrigued and come on down. If somebody that resonates with them got married (here), why not them? That’s our vision.”

Diaz said the city also wants to support wedding chapels by allowing them to be included in the city’s visual improvement program under the Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency, which offers small businesses a 50 percent rebate, up to $25,000, on exterior renovation costs in eligible locations.

Wedding chapels were excluded from receiving redevelopment funds as they were categorized with nightclubs, strip clubs and bars but Goya said that should change after a Feb. 19 vote allowing chapels to qualify for the rebate.

Some in the wedding business like, Donne Kerestic, owner and CEO of Chapel of the Flowers, hope to boost Las Vegas’ marriage rate by building “something so unique” that “you can only see in Vegas.”

“The first half of last year, we personally did decline in the number of weddings,” Kerestic said. “The second half we grew, especially in the fourth quarter…but we spent a lot of time rebranding the property. We invested $2 million over the last few years redoing every single chapel, redoing the grounds.”

Kerestic said he also has plans to construct a new wedding venue on Las Vegas Boulevard.

Michael Kelly, owner of the Little Vegas Chapel, said he has seen the county take steps to recast how the wedding industry is perceived, but said Las Vegas will remain a wedding destination because it’s affordable and couples have to jump through fewer hoops to get married.

“When you need something done quickly and you want it done right and you want it done professionally — that’s how I see Las Vegas weddings,” he said. “They come to Vegas and they think, ‘Hey, I get a vacation. I get a honeymoon and it’s a fraction of the cost of doing it back home.’ It’s just so much easier.”

Little Church of the West Director of Operations Dan Vallance said it’s only a matter of time before the marriage rate picks back up for Las Vegas.

“There’s as many Millennials (those aged roughly 24-39) as Baby Boomers (those aged roughly 56-74) so we’re optimistic we’re going to see a boom again,” Vallance said. “People getting married later in life — that’s not a negative as long as they’re still getting married.”

Contact Subrina Hudson at shudson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @SubrinaH on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Business Videos
Massive crane arrives at MSG Sphere site for upcoming heavy lifts -VIDEO
The 869-ton, 580-foot-high DEMAG CC-8800, the world’s fourth-largest crawler crane, has arrived in Las Vegas to begin work on the MSG Sphere project. (Madison Square Garden and Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MGM Resorts last Las Vegas operator standing in Osaka bid - VIDEO
Japan is getting ready to issue three highly coveted gaming licenses. The country’s gaming market is estimated to be worth more than $25 billion a year once resorts open in 2025. If the estimates stand up, Japan would become the second-largest gaming market in the world behind Chinese gaming enclave Macau. MGM and at least eight other companies had been vying for the Japanese licenses. In 2019 Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd. turned their attention to other areas. Caesars Entertainment Corp. dropped out of the race altogether. MGM teamed up with Japanese financial services group Orix for its bid for a gaming license. MGM/Orix group was the only one to participate in the RFP process. "We think MGM is in a very good position in Osaka at this point" - Union Gaming analyst John DeCree
Plans for luxury hotel on south Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
Review-Journal real estate reporter Eli Segall speaks with Renee Summerour about a California developer's plan to help revamp the south Las Vegas Strip. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Two years until “I Do” - VIDEOY
Las Vegas locals Sam Cruz and Jeff Gaglione discuss their engagement, in their future wedding venue at Emerald at Queensridge in Las Vegas, on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (Elizabeth Page Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @elipagephoto
Chairman, CEO of MGM Resorts Jim Murren stepping down - VIDEO
MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren will be stepping down as chairman and CEO. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wynn Las Vegas opens new convention center space - VIDEO
On Feb. 10, 2020, Wynn Las Vegas opened its new convention center expansion that more than doubled its sellable space. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Local tattoo shop tattoos MAGIC attendees - VIDEO
Club Tattoo is giving away tattoos to the people who attend the biannual fashion convention throughout its three days at Mandalay Bay Convention Center. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New report shows January home sales jump - VIDEO
Las Vegas’ housing market had another big jump in sales from year-ago levels as prices stayed relatively flat, a new report shows. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Creed perfume store part of growing Las Vegas Strip luxury retail - VIDEO
Andrea DeCarlo, general manager at Creed at the Forum Shops at Caesars on the Las Vegas Strip, talks about her luxury perfume store Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Newest tech gadgets at store in Forum Shops at Caesars - VIDEO
A new store at Forum Shops at Caesars, b8ta, encourages shoppers to play with the hottest tech gadgets. (Elizabeth Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Preview Las Vegas 2020 - VIDEO
Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, hints at new branding slogan for Las Vegas, which will no longer be “What happens here, stays here.” The new slogan will be unveiled Jan. 26 during the Grammy Awards. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Boring Company could provide a solution to parking problems - VIDEO
LVCVA President and CEO Steve Hill believes a potential solution for parking problems is the Boring Company’s $52.5 million people-mover -- a system that could eventually be expanded citywide connecting resorts and even McCarran International Airport to the Convention Center.
The Blackstone Group has partnered with MGM Resorts to acquire more properties - VIDEO
A few months after the Blackstone Group bought the Bellagio for more than $4 billion, it has partnered with MGM Resorts on a deal to acquire two other Las Vegas Strip properties. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Young Innovator Award winner explains ReDawn - VIDEO
Sofia Ongele explains ReDawn, which uses a Chatbot named Dawn to help users find resources after a sexual assault. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: MedWand ties for title of Last Gadget Standing - VIDEO
Dr. Samir Qamar of Las Vegas presents MedWand, a medical device that allows physicians to examine patients remotely anywhere in the world, at CES 2020. (Elizabeth Page Brumley /Las Vegas Review-Journal) @elipagephoto
CES Flying Taxis
Bell Nexus EX4 and Hyundai SA-1 flying taxi prototypes from CES 2020. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020 attendees rides in autonomous BMWs - VIDEO
BMW is pitching its reconfigured i3 Urban Suite, which holds a single passenger on a lounge-style seat, as the possible future of chauffeured rides at CES 2020. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: Small appliances unveiled in Las Vegas - VIDEO
The small appliances on show at Sands Expo at CES 2020 in Las Vegas include a Keurig cocktail maker, autonomous cooking system, nitrogen coffee ampules and more. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: The scooter that will remind you of Wall-E - VIDEO
Segway unveiled the egg-shaped S-Pod Scooter at CES 2020 that’s a seated version of their original scooter that can reach 24mph. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: Before the floor opens at Sands Expo on Day One - VIDEO
CES 2020 opened its doors at 10 a.m. Tuesday, welcoming more than 170,000 attendees to the annual electronics show. (Elizabeth Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: A suitcase that follows you, video games to heal you at Pepcom's Digital Experience - VIDEO
Get a glance at Pepcom’s Digital Experience! a showcase of products that will be at this week’s CES convention. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: Impossible Foods Inc. Debuts Impossible Pork - VIDEO
At a pre-CES news conference at Mandalay Bay’s Kumi restaurant Monday night, a company representative announced that the participants were the “first people in the world” to try the new plant-based product, which it provided as samples in the form of Impossible Pork banh mi, char siu buns, dan dan noodles, pork katsu, pork shumai and sweet-sour-and-numbing meatballs.
CES 2020: Impossible Foods debuts Impossible Pork in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Before a packed press conference at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Impossible Foods executives introduced Impossible Pork, its newest product. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: The Future of Transportation - VIDEO
Many automotive companies at CES unveil their plans for the future of transportation including safer driverless cars, safety features and a partnership between Uber and Hyundai. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: What you've missed so far - VIDEO
Catch up on the tech and events presented at CES 2020. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: Samsung debuts 8k TV, MicroLED TV - VIDEO
2020 is set to be a major year for 8k screens, according to Samsung executives. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review Journal)
Las Vegas resorts welcome dogs to stay
Las Vegas properties are welcoming dogs more than ever. MGM Resorts International announced a new dog-friendly program across all of its Las Vegas properties in December. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Musk 'hopeful' for 2020 completion of underground Las Vegas project - VIDEO
Elon Musk tweeted Friday night that The Boring Company’s underground tunnel project in Las Vegas will be “hopefully fully operational” within the next year. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
World Market Center celebrates topping-off ceremony - VIDEO
Las Vegas elected officials including Councilman Cedric Crear attend topping-off ceremony for the Expo at World Market Center in Las Vegas.
MSG Sphere in Las Vegas will be the largest spherical building in the world - VIDEO
The Madison Square Garden Sphere at The Venetian has now been under construction for about one year and is expected to be completed in 2021. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wall Street gives up gains as steep market slide continues

With the spread around Europe gathering pace — Greece became the latest country to reveal its first case — investors are getting increasingly concerned about how long it will take for the world to bring the outbreak under some sort of control.

Las Vegas market sees slow-rising housing prices in 2019

Southern Nevada’s housing market ended 2019 with some of the slowest-rising prices in the U.S., a new report shows. Last month’s home sales, however, ticked up 25 percent compared with January 2019.

Sky-high interest shown in Virgin Galactic space flights

The company did not say when the new set of seats would be released or the actual cost. The initial seats were sold at $250,000 apiece.

Heir to Hot Pockets fortune gets 5 months for college scam

The “vast majority of parents do not brazenly try to push their kids in the side door” of universities through bribery, U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton said.