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County Clerk: Use Fees To Boost LV Wedding Industry

By Antoine Taveneaux (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The wedding industry in Las Vegas is suffering a downturn.

Most of America, if not the world, thinks of Las Vegas as the wedding capital of the world.

Wedding chapels are such huge business here, it was only 10 years ago that chapel salespeople came to blows as they fought over customers in front of the Clark County Clerk’s Office.

The office issues marriage licenses to starry eyed, and yes, sometime drunken, couples.

Flash ahead 10 years, however, and the industry has changed.

The Clark County Clerk says the number of weddings performed in Las Vegas has fallen 37 percent since 2014. That’s equal to 47,000 fewer weddings.

Joni Moss-Graham, president of the Nevada Wedding Association, admits the wedding industry in Las Vegas is in the middle of a downturn. But she prefers to see a silver lining in all that unused chiffon.

"That decline, first of all, is over a ten year process from 2004 to 2014, yes we see that, but we still have quite a bit of weddings," she said. "You know, close to 90,000 last year. That’s still a lot of people coming to Nevada to get married. I think over all, nationwide, weddings are down."

And weddings nationwide have been in a free-fall for way beyond 10 years.

Bowling Green University researchers found that from 1950 to 2011, the rate of marriage for women in the United States fell from a high of 90 percent to 31 percent.

Reasons for that range from economic – more working women means fewer women need to marry for financial reasons – to social: many people simply don’t see the value of marriage. 

Moss-Graham also believes fewer weddings are recorded because people are waiting longer to get hitched.

"I have clients together 25 years before they get married," she said. "Keep in mind, another component of the industry that is big, but what there’s no statistics on is the renewal of vows. Many people are doing renewal of vows and because there’s no legal documents needed for that ceremony, there’s no real numbers on that.”

Las Vegas also offers what many cities do not: the ease of getting a license, then quickly finding a place to get married in one of some 60 or more chapels within a few miles of the Clerk’s Office.

Even so, some chapels have gone out of business in recent years. And Moss-Graham says the wedding decline is making it hard for new chapels to break into the Las Vegas market.

But chapels aren’t the only businesses effected by fewer weddings in Las Vegas. Limousine rentals. Tuxedo and gown rentals. Hotel rooms. Clubs. Bars. Casinos.

Add 10 people to each of those 47,000 weddings: that’s an additional 470,000 people. That’s millions in tourism dollars lost, which translated to millions in lost tax revenue. All because fewer people are tying the knot here.

Clark County Clerk Lynn Goya is in charge of the office that greets all those wanna-be married couples and issues marriage licenses. After taking office in January, she checked the annual figures and found the 10-year-decline.

"When I saw that, even I was surprised," Goya said. "So as I’ve been talking to people about it. One of the things that we think we need to do better is let people know all the wonderful things that happen here in Vegas I don’t think we had a major ad campaign in a long time and I suspect that that might be part of the problem.”

Even the legalization of same-sex marriage here in October hasn’t been a big help. Though five percent of the marriage licenses Goya’s office issues are now for same-sex marriages, Nevada might have gotten into that business too late.

”We’ve seen since October since we started issuing same-sex marriage licenses we’ve seen about a 4.5 percent of licenses issues are for same-sex couples," Goya also said. "But the pent-up demand for people that have been waiting decades to get married kind had been satisfied by the time we entered the market.”

Facing the decline in overall wedding numbers, Goya wants to increase the marriage license fee by $14. And she wants to add a new $3 technology fee.

All told, she estimates the new fees would raise about $1 million in new revenue each year. And what would her office do with all that extra money?

Use it to advertise on behalf of Clark County’s wedding industry.

"And I think when people starting seeing the range and quality and how much fun people have here during their wedding then we’ll start to see an increase in people deciding to come here," Goya added.

But is supporting a for-profit private industry a good use of revenue that is collected by an agency funded by taxpayers?

"I think that government should be doing whatever it can to support the community," Goya replied. "And since I have a specific industry that my office is dealing with, anything I can do to support that industry I think is a positive thing and something that government should be doing.”

Goya’s proposal will be the subject of a public hearing Tuesday at meeting of the Board of the Clark County Commission.

Editor's Note: The Clark County Commission approved the fee increaseduring a meeting Tuesday. 


Lynn Goya, Clark County Clerk;  Joni Moss-Graham, president, Nevada Wedding Association

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.