© Yaacov Dagan / Alamy
Peter Schlesinger
October 21, 2014

Las Vegas, Nevada, Wedding Capital of the World is now handing out marriage licenses to same-sex couples. For a city that markets itself as a free-spirited wedding destination, the change could mean big business.

Las Vegas has long courted the LGBT market, with specialty advertising campaigns, remarkably gay-friendly hotels, and same-sex commitment ceremonies in lieu of licensed weddings. “We’ve been promoting the city as an LGBT destination for five years without same-sex marriage being an issue," says diversity and cultural marketing manager Jim McMichael, from the city's Convention & Visitors Authority.

Michael Weaver, senior vice president of strategic marketing at Wynn Resorts, is quick to point out that while Las Vegas has succeeded in becoming a top leisure destination for LGBT travelers, it has missed out on the wedding market. Paraphrasing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Weaver explains, "There's a natural appeal for Vegas, with its high quality of dining, spa, and entertainment experiences...but why would you come here for a 'skim milk' marriage when you can go to another state for a 'full milk' marriage?"

That final legal hurdle removed, Vegas is poised to regain lost ground.

A flurry of LGBT-targeted advertising speaks to this effect. The city's Convention & Visitors Authority ran a full-page ad (above) in the USA Today celebrating the news, while hotels up and down the strip are offering special promotions and touting their wedding venues. MGM Resorts International properties, such as Mandalay Bay, Aria, and Bellagio, have been busy on social media. Caesars Entertainment has already used its High Roller ferris wheel for a gay wedding reception.

Can Nevada compete with states such as Hawaii and California, which have already made significant inroads marketing themselves as gay-marriage destinations?

Michael Dimengo, from the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, isn't worried. He trumpets the value of the Vegas brand, which has attracted heterosexual couples for decades and has led the region to issue more marriage licenses than any county in the country.

A study from UCLA’s Williams Institute estimated that extending marriage to same-sex couples in Nevada could generate up to $53 million of increased spending from in-state couples. Last year, 83 percent of marriage licenses handed out in Las Vegas's Clark County, home to roughly three fourths of Nevada's population, went to out-of-state couples. The takeway? That survey doesn't begin to estimate the actual economic benefits same-sex marriages will bring.

Peter Schlesinger is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure, and a member of the Trip Doctor news team. You can find him on Twitter at @pschles08.

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