Winnings down in the marriage game |

Winnings down in the marriage game

Pat Patera

In its heyday as the nation’s sin city, Reno traded on its reputation as the divorce capital of the world.

Many divorcees were ready to remarry, often on the spot.

Weddings became big business as well.

As sin became a commodity item, and gambling became gaming, northern Nevada increasingly turned to tourism with a broader base.

But the marriage game still brings in a big chunk of winnings.

Nevada is marriage friendly,with no blood test, no waiting period required.Yet marriage license sales at county clerk offices are off.

“It’s steadily been going downhill,” said Carson County Marriage Bureau Supervisor Kay Bunch.

In 1994, 1,798 licenses were issued.

In 2004 that figure dropped to 1,117.

Out-of-state applicants outnumber in-state by two to one, said Bunch,with August being the busiest month.

Washoe County issued 17,385 marriage licenses in 2004, compared to 28,341 a decade earlier in 1994, says County Clerk Karen Wood.

The reason for the decrease?

“I think a lot of it is because of gaming being in other states now,” she says.”I’d say the majority of licenses are granted to out-of-state people, although the county does not officially track origin of applicant.”

Wood credits Valentine’s Day with making February the biggest license sale month by far 1,718 during the month last year.

Douglas County issued 4,002 marriage licenses in 2004, down from 7,402 in 1994, says Barbara Reed, Douglas County clerk treasurer.

Since the county opened a branch at Lake Tahoe in the early 1990s, the majority of California tourists have purchased their licenses there.

In 2004 the Tahoe office sold 3,705 licenses compared to 294 in Minden.

Ten years ago, the Tahoe office sold 6,723 compared with 423 in Minden.

Reed blames a combination of factors for the downturn.

“It’s the economy,” says Reed.”We’ve seen a decrease across the board.

People are not traveling like they used to.

Casinos are flat; all tourism is flat.”

She cites aggressive Las Vegas marketing efforts, as well.”Flights are more affordable to Las Vegas.

It has drawn people from Lake Tahoe,”Reed says.

Finally, California eliminated the marriage license requirement of a blood test and a three-day waiting period in the early 1990s, says Reed.

That had long been Nevada’s main marriage selling point.

Business is down at wedding chapels as well.Adventure Inn, where 60 percent of the business is tourist weddings, employed four wedding coordinators in 1985.Now it’s down to just two.

“Economics is why business is down everywhere since 9/11,” said Janet Schultz, office manager at the Reno establishment.”A lot of couples just live together and don’t bother to marry.We’re hoping for a resurgence in romance.”

The average wedding generates $800.

March through November is the busy season at White Lace and Promises, a Reno wedding chapel where 85 percent of the weddings are for tourists.

Business has been sliding since 1990, and owner John Ketaner said it dropped more sharply five years ago.

“We lost a lot to Las Vegas; Reno is asleep,” he said.

Tourism agencies lack firm figures on the overall impact of wedding tourism, citing the difficulty of measuring who comes with the wedding party and where they stay often with friends and family, rather than in hotel rooms.

A comprehensive study commissioned in 1992 by the Lake Tahoe Visitor Authority showed weddings made up 10 percent of the Lake Tahoe south shore tourism take, but no studies have been conducted since then.

Even so, the agency takes wedding tourism seriously, funding wedding promotion to the tune of $95,000 a year.

Nationwide, the honeymoon industry is a $7 million market, says Sandi Escalle of Fairchild Bridal Group, A Conde Nast affiliate.

Honeymooners spend 290 percent more than the average U.S.

traveler spends on a vacation,with the average honeymoon costing $3,471.Among readers of Brides and Modern Brides magazines, 4.5 percent of readers chose Nevada as a honeymoon destination, says Escalle.

Hundreds of businesses make a buck off the wedding business, as evidenced by a stroll through the Fantasy Wedding Faire, an annual fundraiser sponsored by the American Heart Association,where 2,000 brides-to-be throng 160 vendor booths.”Many attendees come from California and rural Nevada,” says organizer Jessica Williams.

Sole proprietors such as wedding planners, photographers and entertainers also thrive on the tourist dollar.

Almost all of her business is the tourist wedding trade, says wedding planner Vanessa Ornelas of Happily Ever After.

She plans up to 25 events a year; for customers who locate her via Web site.Wedding planners charge $75 to $3,300 per event,with an average billing of $2,000.

Tourist weddings account for 75 percent of her business, up to 30 events a year, says Sue Smith of Reflection Photography.

Business comes from referrals and from her listing on the Web site photographers bill an average of $1,000 per event.

Larry Williams of the Reno-Tahoe DJ Company says about 40 percent of his wedding customers come from out of the area.

They find him through his Web site at, says Wedding DJs bill $600 to $1,200 per event and can play up to 200 wedding receptions per year.