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Cupid’s arrows striking less often at Vegas chapels

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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.

With it falling on a weekday, the celebration isn't expected to be as hot as years 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, Miss Moss said.

In Nevada, 85 percent of all marriages start in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, and almost 5 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.

Nevada wedding professionals said the longtime drop in new marriage licenses is not a reflection of Las Vegas' 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, Miss 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."

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 longtime couples to renew their vows and promoting commitment ceremonies for gay grooms and brides. Gay marriage is prohibited in Nevada.

At the 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 look-alike.

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 Bureau. 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.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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