LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas' love life is in the dumps.
Fewer than 92,000 couples married in or around Sin City last year. The last time the city of drive-through wedding chapels married fewer people, it was 1993.
The wedding industry hopes Valentine's Day provides some much needed sizzle, but they aren't betting on it.
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With it falling on a weekday, the celebration isn't expected to be as hot as year's past when lovers took advantage of the day falling on a weekend to go to the altar.
The love recession is a real heartache for Vegas.
"The volume is down," said Joni Moss, a longtime Las Vegas wedding planner and founder of the Nevada Wedding Association, a business group. "The number speaks for itself. And people are just spending less."
Small mom-and-pop chapels have been hit the hardest, Moss said.
In Nevada, 85 percent of all marriages start in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, and almost five percent of all marriages in the country become official near the neon marquees and smoky gambling halls of the Las Vegas Strip.
While Nevada was 35th in the nation in population in 2009, it's fifth in marriages, according to the U.S. Census Bureau
Marriages peaked in the county in 2004, when 128,250 couples tied the knot. Fewer people said "I do" in each subsequent year.Story: Couple gets married on a real love train in Philly
Nevada wedding professionals said the longtime drop in new marriage licenses is not a reflection of Las Vegas's waning popularity. They blame the double-barrel woes of a national recession and the ebbing interest in the holy state of matrimony.
Local governments, which issue marriage licenses, are also reeling from the loss of wedding income.
Clark County made more than $7 million in its wedding prime in 2004. Last year, wedding-related revenue dwindled to roughly $5.5 million. Coupled with declining property taxes, the wedding bust is a real bruise, County Clerk Diana Alba said.
"It does affect the revenue that comes in," she said. "It is a major part of the tourism."
To help offset declining revenue, the clerk's office stopped offering 24-hour wedding licenses in 2006, Alba said.
"The marriage demographic is aging," she said. "The baby boomer generation is all getting old. Marriage goes in and out of fashion and I think right now it is not as fashionable to get married."The cost of Kate and William's royal wedding
In good years, Las Vegas weddings pump $643 million into the local economy, said Alicia Malone, a spokeswoman with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. About 1 million people visit Sin City each year to attend a wedding, she said.
To make up for the wedding downturn, chapels are encouraging long-time couples to renew their vows and promoting commitment ceremonies for gay grooms and brides. Gay marriage is prohibited in Nevada.
At Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel, business was up 20 percent in 2010 compared with 2009 partly because of the chapel's outreach to already married couples, said Brian Mills, general manager.
The chapel offers the kind of wedding frills Las Vegas is famous for: couples can get married by "Alice Cooper," "Tom Jones," and "Marilyn Monroe," among other celebrity impersonators. In the most popular package, the bride can roll down the aisle in a vintage 1964 pink Cadillac driven by an Elvis Presley-lookalike.
But there's only so many ways chapels here can try to offset the marriage crash.
The national marriage rate has been on the skids since at least 2004, according to data from the Pew Research Center and the Census. The Pew survey concluded marriages are on the decline among all groups, especially low-income couples.
In 1960, two-thirds of all 20-somethings were married, Pew found. Only 26 percent were in 2008.
The lure of getting married in Las Vegas has long been tied to the state's streamlined wedding laws. Neither blood tests nor waiting periods are required in the city and the county marriage license bureau is open from 8 a.m. to midnight, including holidays.
Weddings here are traditionally more economical, too. The Elvis Cadillac special at Viva Las Vegas, for example, starts at $777.
Northern Nevada began luring couples eager to marry quickly from California and other neighboring states in 1927, when the Silver State's waiting period was about three months, one of the shortest in the country, said Eugene Moehring, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor who specializes in Nevada history.
When Las Vegas blossomed into a gambling and tourist mecca decades later, getting married in Sin City's party-ready atmosphere became de rigueur, especially among publicity-seeking celebrities, Moehring said.
Frank Sinatra wed Mia Farrow on the Las Vegas Strip in 1966. Elvis and Priscilla Presley tied the knot Vegas-style in 1967. More recently, Britney Spears, then 22 and wearing a baseball cap, briefly married a childhood friend in a 2004 ceremony that foreshadowed the pop star's eventual meltdown.
Moehring said these marriages, none of which lasted, represent Nevada's daring western spirit.
"The whole point of Nevada is we are the last frontier," he said. "It's like the 19th century. You don't need any stinking blood tests or waiting. Just get married. They don't care if you have been married before. They won't ask questions."
New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are the most popular wedding days in Las Vegas these days, wedding chapel operators said.
The second-most popular wedding days are triple digit dates that are supposed to be lucky, say June 6, 2006 or Oct. 10, 2010. This year, Nov. 11, 2011 — 11-11-11 — could result in thousands of new Las Vegas marriages, wedding officials predicted.
Valentine's Day has been less of a sure bet. Of the past five Valentine's Days, the most popular wedding year was 2009, when the holiday fell on a Saturday and 1,796 couples married in Clark County.
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