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September 19, 2014

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Big Elvis, the King of Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall, finds a fitting bride

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Erik Kabik/Retna/www.erikkabikphoto.com

Peter “Big Elvis” Vallee and Amanda Lasham’s wedding at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon on July 15, 2010.

It was a romance ignited in a traditional sort of way, with an Elvis tribute artist belting out the King's classic tunes in a Strip casino lounge, and a comely audience member bickering with her soon-to-be-former boyfriend.

Oh, and there were a couple of Long Island iced teas involved. OK, three Long Island iced teas, stirred with a swizzle stick we'll call gumption.

Amanda Lasham needed those teas, served from the bar at the lounge at what was then called Barbary Coast. She and her boyfriend were at the "BC" to catch an Elvis tribute act known as Big Elvis, starring the immensely appealing Pete Vallee. This was in July 2008, and it was a hot night in all kinds of ways.

"I was in the front row with my boyfriend and I wanted to check (Vallee) out," Lasham said Thursday night, a couple of hours before Amanda became the Mrs. Peter Armand Vallee before 160 invited guests and at least 160 gawkers at the now-named Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Casino. "My boyfriend and I were fighting. It was not a good night for us."

But it was a good night for a heartfelt tribute to Elvis. Vallee is a fine singer and sincerely embraces the persona of Presley, which was fortunate this night because Amanda is a discriminate, devoted fan of the King. She's the type of fan, in fact, who would have "Elvis Presley" tattooed to the back of her neck — we say that because she does in fact have "Elvis Presley tattooed to the back of her neck.

"I'm a very strict judge when it comes to Elvis," she says.

Vallee, too, was in a relationship that night. No matter. Amanda made her visit to the musty old casino on Flamingo and the Strip count. She needed to meet Pete, who is as famous for his weight loss as his voice (he's down to about 400 pounds after topping out at more than 900, with an ultimate goal of 250, and you can read the great Brendan Buhler's story about that process here). Feeling nervous, she had a trio of Long Islands, served in small glasses from the lounge bar, and met the man after the show.

"I was just very nice to him," Amanda recalls. "I told him I was a fan, and he was just really sweet. There were a lot of people who met him then."

The two eventually became a couple, with Amanda a familiar figure at Vallee's shows (which run Mondays through Fridays at 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.), dancing to Elvis' hits just off to the side of the stage. Finally, in August, Vallee proposed to Amanda at his Las Vegas home, which is just east of Eastside Cannery on Boulder Highway.

"He got on one knee and asked me," Amanda says. "I told him I would be honored to be his wife."

The nuptials drew a large crowd mixed with invited guests, seated in chairs draped in white in a roped-off area at the very lounge in which Vallee performs, and dozens of casino patrons who witnessed the proceedings in happy astonishment. The matron of honor was Lucille Star Kramer, Vallee's manager. The best man was Sonny West, former aide to, and friend of, the real Elvis. The couple's first dance was not to an Elvis song, but to "I Could Fall in Love" by Selena, another favorite of Amanda's.

But there were ample reminders of the King. Set in Bill's Steakhouse, where the reception was held, was an ice sculpture cut into the shape of the famous "TCB" design. "Takin' Care of Business," is what that stands for, and the "TCB" insignia set around a lightning bolt was the design used for necklaces Elvis issued to his inner circle.

For their honeymoon, the couple are headed to San Francisco, and also, Seattle, before returning to Las Vegas. This will be their home.

As Big Elvis himself said at the couple's reception, bustling with media members and invited guests, "We wouldn't have it any other way."

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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