Labor of Love in Las Vegas 'Wedding Pit'

Chapels seek to snare couples outside the county courthouse.

ByCHRIS BURY

Feb. 20, 2008— -- In Las Vegas, the wedding capital of the world, love is in the air and in your face. More than 60 chapels beckon with bright lights and neon, all competing for Cupid's business.

And in Vegas, matrimony is a true moneymaker. Second only to gambling, the sacred institution rakes in an estimated $900 million per year.

With so much at stake, the labor of love is not all hugs and kisses. No one knows this better than Vegas Adventure Wedding Chapel employee Jed Matzke.

Six days a week, he heads out in a stretch limo to round up lovebirds at the county courthouse. Matzke and his competition work what they call "the pit," the sidewalk just outside the marriage license bureau.

No sooner does a likely couple appear — the white envelopes containing licenses are a dead giveaway — than Matzke and the other hawkers move in, with offers of DVDs, photos of the ceremony, and more. The competition for those happy couples is fierce and, sometimes, not so friendly. Last year, one hawker allegedly stabbed another.

In October, the city shut down the Garden of Love chapel because its hawkers allegedly bullied others at the pit, drawing complaints from the competition.

Charolette Richards, the Vegas matriarch of matrimony, has presided over weddings for nearly 50 years at the Little White Wedding Chapel, where celebrities from Judy Garland to Britney Spears have tied the knot. Richards, the chapel's owner, thinks this type of competition is inappropriate.

"I think it's a disgrace to the wedding industry in Las Vegas to have people out there just shoving all these papers in your face," Richards said.

But with so much money at stake, the premium is on catching couples quickly. After all, Nevada is legendary for licensing marriages as quickly as you can say "I do." And at a bargain, too.

One woman told "Nightline" that it cost about $62 to tie the knot. Her husband added, "It's probably the easiest state in the U.S. to get married."

Cheap, easy, and in the tunnel of love, almost as convenient as ordering a cheeseburger. David Rolfus and Dawn Lucas got married simply by pulling up to a drive-through window.

"We waited 24 years to get married. We thought we'd do a drive-up thing," Rolfus said. "The only thing we're sad about is we thought we'd get a side of fries, too."

Across town, Anders Christensen took his vows wearing a "Kiss" T-shirt. Christensen and his wife were visiting from Denmark. While on a road trip across the West, they stopped in Vegas, took a brochure from Matzke, and the next thing you know, they had tied the knot.

"I think this is a safe gamble," Christensen said.

Back at the pit, Matzke, armed only with his chapel's fliers, spends much of his day pacing, smoking and dealing with rejection.

"I'd say 75 percent of the people already have a chapel, or just aren't interested," he said.

But his low-key pitch eventually landed a young couple, already decked out for their big day.

Soon, the happy couple were cruising in his limo, and moments after shelling out $99 for the Amour Package, which includes a DVD of those candid moments, the bride and groom were walking down the aisle, shedding tears of joy. Love, Las Vegas style, was in the air once again.

Matzke, meanwhile, was still working the pit. A romantic at heart, he's still in the market, himself. "I'm single," he said. "Still waiting for The One."

Would he get married in Vegas?

"Of course."

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