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Vegas wedding chapels seek tougher rules on handbillers

LAS VEGAS (AP) – A group of about 10 wedding chapel owners in downtown Las Vegas is pushing the city to crack down on aggressive pamphleteering that they say is partly to blame for a decrease in weddings.

Weddings hit at all-time high of 125,967 in 2004, but over the next two years declined almost 10.7 percent, including a 7.2 percent drop from 2005 to 2006.

Last year, there were 112,531 weddings, fewer than in the travel-averse years immediately following the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“It’s been so sad,” said Charolette Richards, who owns the Little White Wedding Chapel. “I’ve been in this business for almost 49 years now, and to see this is horrifying. It’s almost heartbreaking.”

Some chapel owners place the blame directly on the aggressive handbillers who badger soon-to-be-newlyweds outside the Las Vegas Marriage Bureau, hoping to steer customers into waiting limousines and stretch Hummers.

“They say, ‘Oh, my God, it was like vultures. Attacking vultures,'” Richards said.

It can make a negative impression, said Cliff Evarts, who owns the Vegas Wedding Chapel.

Evarts said he discontinued his handbilling last month.

“If they come here and have a bad experience, they’re going to go home and say, ‘Go to Vegas, but don’t get married there,'” he said.

That could be bad for the city, since there would be fewer visitors who must leave the Strip and actually enter the city limits to obtain a marriage license.

“The city of Las Vegas is the one who benefits from the wedding business,” Evarts said. “If you get married, you have to go downtown.”

Rough estimates from visitor surveys say that 3 percent to 4 percent of visitors come to Las Vegas for a wedding, either their own or someone else’s, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

That adds up to about 1.2 million visitors with an $875 million economic impact, and that doesn’t include any gambling they might do.

The group is also looking at ways to make people in the industry more accountable.

One of the key steps could be requiring wedding chapels to obtain privileged business licenses, which require background checks as well as approval by the Las Vegas City Council.

“That would be the best of the best,” said Jodi Moss, a local wedding consultant.

She also is a vice president of the Nevada Wedding Association and is coordinating the local effort.

City staff are researching that requirement, city spokesman Jace Radke said.

Moss said other goals include a code of ethics for chapel owners and a membership-driven organization that could offer, and enforce, a “Good Housekeeping seal of approval” so customers could identify the industry’s ethical practitioners.

Those steps could curb the abuses that have been reported over the last five years.


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