Las Vegas's $2 Billion Wedding Industry Is Back In June, about 340 couples a day were getting hitched in Sin City, a rate higher than even before the pandemic.

Viva Las Vegas! The City's $2 Billion Wedding Industry Is Back

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

After a pandemic slump, business is booming again in America's wedding capital, Las Vegas.

Nevada Public Radio's Nate Hegyi reports.

NATE HEGYI, BYLINE: Brandon Paul has got the look - the dyed black pompadour, the bedazzled suit, the sunglasses. He's an Elvis impersonator. And right now he's guiding two young women through their vows at the Graceland Chapel in downtown Las Vegas.

BRANDON PAUL: I will never step...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Laughter) I will never step.

PAUL: ...On your blue suede shoes.

(LAUGHTER)

HEGYI: This is the eighth wedding he's performed today. And Paul looks a little tired. His voice is raspy. But after the women are married, he still cues up the big finale on the chapel sound system.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A LITTLE LESS CONVERSATION")

PAUL: (Singing) Woo - a little less conversation.

HEGYI: Paul is singing karaoke-style over the song. Then he jumps up on to a pew.

PAUL: One more kiss - give her a kiss.

(CHEERING)

PAUL: Yes. Come on, everybody. Here they are.

HEGYI: When he's alone, Paul tells me that singing is tough these days. He had COVID back in October. And he has some lingering symptoms.

PAUL: I'd find myself short of breath. And I'm going, OK. But you know what? I'm alive. And if that's it, whatever. If that's my worst thing, I can't hold the note as long as I used to, I'll deal with that.

HEGYI: Paul is going to have to deal with that because his chapel is super busy this summer. After having to lay employees off last year, now on some weekends, he's performing dozens of weddings in a single day. It's repetitive work. But he still loves it.

PAUL: I don't care if I sing "Viva Las Vegas" 20,000 times. When I watch the people - viva Las Vegas - screaming - the guests are like, yeah, it's awesome. So I get off on that.

HEGYI: Graceland Chapel isn't alone. The numbers of new weddings and marriage licenses issued in Clark County are higher than both last year and even before the pandemic. Things really ramped up beginning in March, when vaccines became readily available and casinos increase their capacities. By June, about 340 couples were getting married every single day in the Las Vegas area.

LYNN MARIE GOYA: We've just been bombarded. But it's good.

HEGYI: Clark County Clerk, Lynn Marie Goya, says, weddings are a $2 billion industry here, employing 18,000 people.

GOYA: We have so many different options on how to get married that it just permeates throughout the local economy.

HEGYI: That economy took a big hit during the early days of the pandemic. Casinos and businesses were shut down. And weddings plummeted, too. In April of last year, they were down by 96%. But now business is booming.

And it should be noted that COVID has boomed in recent weeks, too. The number of hospitalizations doubled but appears to be tapering off. Clark County just brought back a mask mandate for employees working in crowded indoor spaces.

Still, Randy Rathbun and Sophia Heid came here from Minnesota to get hitched. They're doing it in a helicopter.

SOPHIA HEID: Who do you know who's ever married in a helicopter?

HEGYI: Heid has dyed purple hair and tattoos. Rathbun is quiet and wearing a cowboy hat. They met a couple of years ago on a dating app.

HEID: I've had a couple cousins married on dating websites. I know friends who have been married from dating websites. So I thought I'd give it a try. And obviously he gave it a try. And voila. In a helicopter we are.

HEGYI: She says the pandemic brought them closer together. There was no proposal. They were just walking around a mall last August and decided together to tie the knot. Heid loves how carrying her soon-to-be husband is. He's got a big heart. He's kind. And also...

HEID: He has a really nice butt. I really like that part, too. I just really wanted to put that in there.

HEGYI: Well, you're going to have that on National Public Radio.

RANDY RATHBUN: Good. Good.

HEID: (Laughter).

RATHBUN: It's good advertising.

HEGYI: Heid and Rathbun will soon join the more than 37,000 couples who have gotten married in Sin City this year.

For NPR News, I'm Nate Hegyi in Las Vegas.

CHANG: That story comes to us from the Mountain West News Bureau, a public radio collaborative.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VIVA LAS VEGAS")

ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) Viva Las Vegas. Viva Las Vegas.

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