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Viva Las Vegas!
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

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Getting Hitched in America's Sin City

Elvis may have left the building, but he's very much a presence in the chapels of Las Vegas -- also known as the Wedding Capital of the World -- where more than 100,000 couples tie the knot each year.

Darren Lee, winner of the 1997 "Best Elvis Contest" at the King's Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tenn., performs an average of 200 weddings per year as the late rock legend at Cupid's Wedding Chapel in downtown Las Vegas. And he's hardly alone: Eight different Las Vegas locations offer wedding packages featuring celebrity-impersonator pastors, who mimic everyone from Elvis and Liberace to fictional heroes like James Bond and Captain Kirk.

The costs for such exotic ceremonies run from $245 to $1,500.

There are more modest options, of course. Las Vegas requires no blood test and no waiting period for a marriage license, and the license costs just $55 -- in cash, no exceptions. So it's no surprise that America's Sin City lures those seeking a fast and frugal way to join in holy matrimony.

"A Las Vegas wedding is appealing to lots of people because it is a very quick and simple process," says Gina Houts, a wedding coordinator at Cupid's. "You can arrive in Las Vegas and have a marriage license within a matter of hours. At home, traditional weddings can cost $5,000 to $10,000, because they turn into big family affairs with expensive dresses and huge feasts. But many couples are working on a fixed budget, and there are only so many dollars to go around. So affordability is a major issue, and Las Vegas offers the quickest, best and most cost-effective weddings.

"The other appeal of a Las Vegas wedding is the glitz and glamor of the city. People have fun. They come here and say, 'Let's get married and make it a honeymoon.' Plus, the anxiety level is less here. But the wedding business in Las Vegas has become very cutthroat," she adds. "Traditional weddings conjure up notions of love, glory and strong sentiment. Some people don't want that. They want the cheesy experience, something really tacky and crazy. We also try to offer a traditional wedding without the traditional price. But it's become so commercialized in Las Vegas that many chapels sacrifice that touch of class and offer tacky, flat-rate ceremonies. Its so commercial, theres no sentiment left."

While the chapels of Las Vegas provide affordable alternatives to traditional marriage ceremonies -- provided the newlyweds can keep their shirts at the casinos -- popular destinations like Cupid's, San Francisco Sally's Victorian Chapel and the Chapel of the Bells entertain a wide range of clients, not just penny-pinchers.

Michael Jordan (divorced) and Joan Collins (multiply divorced) exchanged vows with their significant others at the Little White Wedding Chapel, open 24 hours for those with a late-night marital urge. (The chapel also offers $40 drive-through ceremonies.) Jon Bon Jovi and Lorenzo Lamas held their ceremonies at the Graceland Wedding Chapel, which, despite its name, has nothing to do with The King. Famous couples who tied the knot in Las Vegas include Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford, and -- who else? -- Elvis and Priscilla Presley.

Not all Sin City marriages are pre-planned events, whether the players are Hollywood hotshots, superstar athletes or Average Joes. Given the 24-hour-a-day nature of the city -- and the round-the-clock availability of alcohol -- some marriages just kind of, you know, happen.

"Since we'd known each other for two months, my girlfriend Sue and I decided to get hitched in Vegas, far from the voices of reason that some would call our friends," says Alex Bernstein of Chicago. "It seemed like Vegas would add to the absurdity of the whole business -- it made the whole thing trashier, which is what we wanted. Besides, who has ever made a life-altering mistake in Vegas, anyway?

"We found a Baptist ministry in downtown Vegas that did weddings as a side gig to make money for the church. They asked for $100, but we talked them down to $40. They had cardboard pillars, a cardboard Roman altar, plastic ivy and a boom box that blasted the wedding march. It was over quickly, and we returned to the city of neon lights and mile-high margaritas."

Whether it's a marriage of convenience, a shotgun wedding or a spontaneous expression of drunken joy, theres a healthy market for all kinds of love in Las Vegas, and prospective brides and grooms have plenty of options, from the 15-minute whirlwind ceremonies made famous by the Chapels of Love to the $15,000 customized extravaganzas at the ritzy Bellagio Hotel and Casino.

Regardless of the cost, marriage is just as much a crapshoot in Las Vegas as it is anywhere else in the U.S., where roughly half of all marital unions end in divorce.

"We're still married, but we're no longer together," Bernstein says. "We've gotten back together a couple of times, but things have always ended with me getting punched or having a coffee cup thrown at my head. Ask your readers if they know a good attorney in the state of Nevada." -- Rossiter Drake

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