How Las Vegas became the Wedding Capital of the World

Las Vegas Weddings

Got some time to spare and a marriage license? Then you have almost everything that you need to tie the knot in the wedding capital of the world. In Vegas, it is not unusual to spot a bride that is out on the town in full wedding gear. 

Vegas is not only referred to as Sin City. It is also today’s wedding capital of the world and it is easy to see why. With countless ceremonies often officiated by celebrity impersonators, Vegas offers couples endless possibilities. 

Where else can you have your ceremony officiated by the likes of Elvis all decked out in his signature bedazzled jumpsuit and a black pompadour to boot? Not a big Elvis fan? You can also have your wedding officiated by the Godfather, James Bond or whatever else you prefer. And that’s not all. 

Walk into any one of the numerous small white chapels, and bells will chime as you make your way. In true customer service fashion, an attendant will soon inquire about what theme you prefer. Intergalactic? Goth? Maybe a little slice of Hawaii? Anything goes in Vegas.   

The Las Vegas wedding tourism industry generates millions every year. As a matter of fact, hundreds of thousands throng Sin City each year to get married. Despite the lights, glitter, and debauchery, Vegas is a great destination for couples that are looking to escape the stresses the come with wedding planning.

So how did Vegas, the apex of unabashed kitsch, become the wedding capital of the world? 

It all started with a failing economy

Back in 1930, Las Vegas only had a handful of residents with the greater majority residing in the much larger Clark County. Amid the Great Depression, the state legislature voted to legalize gambling in March 1931, all in an effort to lift the state from an economy that was in shambles. In the process, the Strip (previously known as Highway 91) became one of the most popular spots in the country.

Divorce is legalized

Later on that same year, Gov. Fred Balzar also signed the 6 weeks divorce measure, which was designed to keep Nevada as the leading state for serving failed marriages. Under Governor Balzar’s new divorce law, divorce seekers, regardless of their counties of origin, could file suit in any court within the state as long as they had spent 6 weeks in any town within Nevada’s borders. 

The 6 weeks divorce measure was extensively inconsistent with the previous 90-day act, which required continuous residence from anyone filing suit. Before the measure was institutionalized, couples would wait for periods of a year or more. The only ground for divorce in most states back then was the corroboration of adultery.

Then the marriage process was expedited

As of 1931, Clarke County boasted one of the most indulgent and relaxed marriage policies in the entire country. Vegas’ lenient marriage policies set it apart from other states that had a whole host of requirements including blood tests and long waiting periods before marriages could be licensed. Thanks to the new policies, couples could get married legally in a day.

The new legislation attracted more and more tourists 

With gambling legalized and with a promise of stress-free weddings and divorces, hordes of tourists began making their way to the desert. By 1939, Clarke County had recorded more than 5,000 marriages. In Reno, located in northern Nevada, divorce seekers also arrived in their thousands, and the small town quickly garnered the title of the Divorce Capital of the World.

The growth of Fremont Street

As a result of the tourism boost, the local economy began to recover and progress substantially. Though gambling had already been legalized in 1931, Vegas did not immediately become the vacation destination that it is today. 

It was the casino joints situated along Fremont Street that attracted the most tourists. Owing to the collage of bright colorful neon lights, Freemont Street quickly acquired the title Glitter Gulch. 

The strip begins to grow

It was not until the 1940s that the strip started to become popular stealing most of the attention from the previously popular Fremont Street. By the 1950s, the Vegas Strip had grown to become the biggest player in Vegas tourism. 

The expansive resorts built in the Strip drew gambling visitors and couples looking to marry in their thousands. The newly built resorts also attracted vacationers looking for amenities that the smaller downtown casinos simply could not offer.

The Little Church of the West opens its doors

To cash in on the marriage boom, The Little Church of the West opened its doors in 1942. Famously nicknamed the ‘Hitching Post’ The Little Church of the West became the blueprint for all other chapels that were popping up at the time. 

Today, there are about 50 more wedding chapels with most situated between the Strip and downtown. These days, most resorts and hotels in Vegas have a wedding chapel and all you need is$77 for the marriage license and you are good to go.

The rise of celebrity quickie weddings

In December 1932, Clara Bow, the face of TV and film in the 1920s married fellow actor Rex Bell in Vegas creating a trend that would last for years to come. Like Kate Huber, editor at NJGamblingFun says, “It’s not a quickie wedding unless it happened in Vegas. There’s something about Vegas – the glamor, the buzz, the excitement in the air that makes people act on impulse. And that’s not always a bad thing!”

 Some of the most popular celebrities to tie the knot in Vegas include Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow (1966), Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward (1958), Demi Moore and Bruce Willis (1987), Jon Bon Jovi and Dorothea Hurley (1989), Michael Jordan and Juanita Vanoy (1989), Spears and Jason Allen Alexander (2004) and much more.

Final Thoughts

Today, most couples turn to Vegas to tie the knot simply because it offers endless possibilities for couples. Everything goes in Vegas, just as long as it is legal. In Vegas, you can get married aboard the Titanic or at the Eiffel Tower. If you choose to go the traditional route and tie the knot in one of the many chapels available, you can even live-stream your nuptials for friends and family that are not in attendance.