What Happens in Vegas Ends Up on Instagram

Revelry and debauchery may be synonymous with Las Vegas, but it turns out that what happens in Vegas most definitely does not stay in Vegas. The infamous phrase promises a certain sense of secrecy around activities that tourists would rather not remember once they get back to their normal lives. We reviewed almost 23,000 Instagram posts and found that when “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” becomes a social media hashtag, all bets are off for privacy and anonymity.

Las Vegas’ official tourism body, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), has actually adopted “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” as their promotional tagline. In 2015, the LVCVA reported over 41 million visitors over the course of a year. Since Las Vegas is a popular destination for conference and convention attendees, it’s no surprise that the tourism authority uses the attraction of some of the city’s more seductive activities to encourage both the satisfaction of visitors and the local economy itself.

In turn, #whathappensinvegasstaysinvegas has become somewhat popular. Over a nearly 21-month period between April 2014 and December 2015, the hashtag was used over 100,000 times on Instagram alone. Many posts featuring the hashtag are promotional moves by local nightclubs and nightlife attractions, but individuals have taken up the hashtag to post proof of their own revelry. The irony of a hashtag popularizing an idea that should, by design, never be shared, is self-evident.

The insights that follow were pulled from the almost 23,000 Instagram posts tagged with #whathappensinvegasstaysinvegas by individuals without any Vegas-specific promotional goals. Using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service, we were able to identify the topics of each post and distinguish between the quite possibly questionable Vegas activities these thrill-seekers share. It’s clear that broadcasting your Vegas debauchery with this hashtag will definitely not keep evidence of your wild vacation away from public consumption!

The most frequently posted features of #whathappensinvegasstaysinvegas photos are skimpy clothes or bikinis, alcohol, casinos, nightclubs, and concerts or shows. The prevalence of scandalous outfits and bikini photos has a few clear contributors, including the dress codes of nightlife locations and Las Vegas’ famous pool parties. Meanwhile, casinos, nightclubs, and live performance events are some of the most popular draws to the Las Vegas strip. At the same time, a lot of those venues and events also play host to precisely the kind of out-of-character behaviors that most people would rather leave behind when they exit Vegas. Could it be that documenting the revelry is just too irresistible?

Irresistible or not, all of these most popular photo features are also completely legal for consenting adults. Drugs, weapons, police, and the general category of illegal activity are considerably less acceptable, and their inherent unlawfulness probably succeeds in giving Instagram posters enough pause to withhold those photos. The more clandestine photo features still chart for the hashtag, albeit in much lower numbers.

The nature of Instagram as a photo-sharing platform also probably has a lot to do with what makes it through Vegas partiers’ questionable filters. Instagram is often linked to displays of narcissism, because the edited, filtered, carefully curated feeds of life’s moments so rarely represent reality. It’s no surprise then that people predominantly share visually appealing snapshots of the Vegas lifestyle, like poolside vacation moments, fancy cocktails, the flashing casino lights, and dancefloor selfies.

Of course, posting the most popular Vegas photo features doesn’t guarantee likes from fellow Instagram users. Photos featuring weapons won No. 1 most liked by a landslide, with 174.3 likes on average when compared with other #whathappensinvegasstaysinvegas Instagram posts. Nevada’s lenient gun laws and vocal supporters of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution surely help boost the weapons category’s likes count.

Meanwhile, other much-liked photo categories fit more squarely into the ideal, curated photo album. Whether or not you believe it’s narcissistic, photos of men and women showing skin and flashing cash definitely win likes and followers on social media. Some of the other top-liked photo features included pictures of money (67.8 likes on average), skimpy clothes or bikinis (64.9), and wedding shots (57.4).


The “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” rallying cry draws immense crowds to the attractions and lavish lifestyle that Las Vegas has to offer. Of course, if partygoers justify their wild behavior with the idea that no one will ever find out, they would probably be better off leaving their cameras in their hotel rooms and steering clear of Instagram. Sharing photos with #whathappensinvegasstaysinvegas defeats the secrecy that the mantra promises. A word to the wise: If you’re posting from Vegas, your photos won’t stay in Vegas.



We looked at all posts on Instagram containing #whathappensinvegasstaysinvegas from April 1, 2014 to December 12, 2015. We then removed the worst of the hashtag spammers, trimming the number of posts down to 22,939. The contents of the remaining posts were then evaluated using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and the results were visualized.