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Couples Still Tied The Knot In Las Vegas During The Pandemic

(AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)

LaTahja Frazier, left, and Laborskie Frazier pose for their wedding photographer after getting married at The Little Neon Chapel, Sunday, May 10, 2020, in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is the wedding capital of the world employing thousands and generating around $2 billion each year. 

But how has the industry changed during the pandemic? And what happened to marriages here—were people getting hitched as much as before the pandemic?  

Lynn Goya is the Clark County Clerk. Her office has been helping people to tie the knot for years. 

“The chapels were hit very hard when we closed down for six weeks, and of course, were quite afraid of what was going to happen just like every other business,” Goya said.

During the initial shutdown last year, the Marriage License Bureau worked with wedding chapels to establish safety protocols so that when they were allowed to reopen they were ready to go, Goya said.

There are about 100 stand-alone wedding chapels in Southern Nevada, Goya said, and about 3,500 officiants with several hundred officiants who perform weddings as a full-time job.

Marie Romano is one of those officiants. She said in 2019 she performed almost 600 weddings, but when the pandemic hit, everything changed.

“I felt like there was a truck rolling over my chest," she said, "So, it definitely changed, but I have high hopes for this year."

Romano said she performed about 200 weddings during 2020 but she believes an uptick is coming.

“I think in 2022 we’re going to hit close to, I want to say, 100,000 weddings,” she said.

One of the biggest days, so far, this year was April 3 because the date is 4/3/2021. 

Goya said the largest day ever for the Marriage License Bureau was July 7, 2007 - the date is 7/7/07. She there was more than 4,500 marriages performed that day in Las Vegas.

“I think what happens is couples want to emphasize how special that day is to them by picking a date that reflects that uniqueness,” she said.

While people did get married during the pandemic, several things about the ceremony have changed. Romano said some venues require the officiant to wear masks and others don't.

But the biggest change is the number of guests in the chapel, she said. 

“What we’ve seen more of are virtual guests being present even though they’re not physically here," Romano said, "I think it’s kind of fun to be able to bring the guests in even though they are not physically here but incorporate them in the wedding ceremony itself."

There are also changes to the celebrations that follow the ceremony. Romano said she knows several DJ operations that have closed because there is no dancing at the reception.

No dancing means no first dance between the couple and no dance with the bride and her father.

“Those are things that are very important, especially to a bride,” Romano said.

Romano said some of the couples she has married during the last several months have decided to get the paper now but schedule the reception for later when life is closer to normal.

Goya noted that the wedding industry in Southern Nevada is a lot more than just the wedding chapels.

“Some of the chapels actually had better years than they’ve had ever, but that doesn’t translate to all of the related businesses that rely on weddings,” she said.

DJs, florists, bakeries, and event planners are just a few of the other industries impacted by weddings. Goya also said 80 percent of the licenses the bureau issues are for people who are from out of state, which means the couple and their guests stay at hotels, eat at restaurants and rent cabanas at resort pools. All of that contributes to the city's economy.

Overall, the number of people in the United States who are getting married has remained the same, Goya said, but globally, the rate of marriages has declined.

The number of people choosing Las Vegas as a place to get married has declined over the past few decades, she said. Goya blames the decline on taking the industry for granted and a lack of good marketing for the city as a wedding destination.

“'The Hangover’ was a huge movie. It was a great success. It was very funny. It was not real but that became the Las Vegas wedding brand, and I don’t think that was a very marketable brand. So, we needed to counter that, and we’re doing that now,” she said.

Goya said Las Vegas became the wedding capital of the world because it offered quick, easy and fun weddings, and the city needs to remind people of that. 

“I think that we stopped marketing," she said, "We took this legacy industry for granted for quite a while and we to make sure that people understand why Las Vegas is still the wedding capital of the world and what makes it the best place to come and get married.”

Lynn Goya, Clerk, Clark County;  Maria Romano, Officiant, True Love Knots

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Zachary Green is the Coordinating Producer and a Reporter for KNPR's State of Nevada Program. He reports on Clark County, minority affairs, health, real estate, business, and gardening. You'll occasionally hear Zachary Green reporting and fill-in hosting on the State of Nevada program.