Why Are There So Many Churches in Las Vegas? September 7, 2008

Why Are There So Many Churches in Las Vegas?

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution posted this question from a reader, referring to Las Vegas:

I lived there for four years and was always curious. I guess the more sin, the more churches???

Tyler offers these reasons:

I would think that most of the churches in Las Vegas are for the residents, not the tourists, and thus the quantity of sin is not a major factor. Why should the residents be especially sinful? (Don’t forget that lots of sinful activities seem to be produced at constant returns to scale, so there’s not always free-riding upon the sin infrastructure for tourists plus parking is an issue.) In explaining the number of churches, I would expect three factors to play a role:

1. Perhaps migrants to Las Vegas are more likely to come from the South.

2. Most of the population growth is recent, so churches serve a valuable function of social networking.

3. Las Vegas has no dominant established religion so there is much religious competition and thus many different churches.

According to my late friend Clark, Vegas also had the largest per capita number of wedding chapels — for obvious reasons. I am not sure if the statistic in question refers to the chapels as churches. But the places used for eloping are certainly not the same places people go to worship.

So why the churches? I suppose if you lose a lot of money, prayer may seem like the only solution to your problems…

What do you think?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • mikespeir

    People need some place to go to REPENT! after all the gambling and strip shows.

  • Jasen

    I’m not sure they really have more than most cities. One list of churches in Dallas (likely one of the most churched big cities) has 1,336 churches – about one per every 920 people.

  • Well, speaking as someone who lives in Vegas, I’d say we’re probably on par with most other cities, though I have noticed that ALOT of the churches are predominately spanish speaking, as well as alot of asian language churches (chinese, korean, et al).

    We also have a very large jewish population here in vegas.

    Overall though, I would say that at least religion doesn’t feel as pushed onto you here as it would likely be in someplace like Kansas City or Atlanta where religion is more entrenched into the local culture. I even had “God Is Not Great” recommended to me at Borders here by a random customer 🙂

    What I have noticed seems to be placement of churches though. There will be a stretch of a couple miles without when, then you get somewhere and BOOM there’s 5 right in a row. There’s 3 different ones within about a block and a half of my apartment, 1 Messianic Judaism, 1 English/Spanish Christian (not sure what sort), and 1 asian (again, not sure what language) christian.

    I think we’re just a weird town.

  • Richard Wade

    People need some place to go to REPENT! after all the gambling and strip shows.

    Maybe it goes the other way: The large number of casinos and strip shows in town is because of all those churches. People need some place to go UNWIND! after all that repenting. 😉

  • HP

    Maybe all the gambling has something to do with it. After all, if you can believe that it’s possible to beat the house at casino games, belief in God is a piece of cake.

  • SarahH

    I think the points Tyler mentioned are probably spot on. I’d be interested to see how it stacks up (perhaps a ratio of permanent residents : churches) against other big cities in the southwest.

  • Stephen M.

    I would wonder if it has anything to do with local tax laws, not-for-profit tax laws, and the likes…could be cheaper to run a church and live in the rectory than to pay taxes on a house and give to someone elses church?

    No facts to back that up, just a thought.

  • mikespeir

    Maybe it goes the other way: The large number of casinos and strip shows in town is because of all those churches. People need some place to go UNWIND! after all that repenting.

    Derepentance? Interesting concept.

  • j swift

    I have nothing to back this up, but I am wondering if there has been significant increase in the number of independent churches.

    I grew up in a small town where you had the small neighborhood churches of the usual denominations, baptist, methodist,church of christ, Mormon.

    The new trend seems to be the entrepeneurial independent church. AFAIK this “business model”, and that is basically what this new form of church is IMO, is responsible for many or most of the mega churches in this country.

  • TXatheist

    Legalized gambling is a HUGE political issue here in the south, Texas. My best guess to the reason of it’s opposition to legalization isn’t the moral issue but the money that would leave the lottery ticket sales which supplements our educational system in Texas.(Yeah, I know statistics never seems to be the major for people that play the lotto) Texans love to go to Vegas. It’s legal and therefore not a sin in their heads.

  • Desert Son

    My guess is basic population correlation: the higher the population, the higher the number of churches (and liquor stores and/or bars, incidentally).

    Vegas has had a significantly increasing population in the last 20 years. It makes sense that the number of churches has also increased during that time, with the understanding, of course, that statistically speaking, correlation is not causation.

    No kings,


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