VegasTripping.com isn’t a marketing mouthpiece. It’s not trying to sell you anything. And that might be why it’s become an Internet sensation.
The site has scooped multiple mainstream media outlets on several stories in the past few years, including the Aria Legionella outbreak. Insiders and “Internet ferrets” send photos and documents that pull back the veil of secrecy from construction projects and new developments. On discussion boards, members share stories of their stays in Vegas and seek advice on the best place to have breakfast or find 3:2 blackjack. It’s almost like TripAdvisor meets Wikileaks, only populated by people with whom you’d like to drink single-malt scotch.
VegasTripping was born over a meal in the wee hours at the Golden Nugget’s Carson Street Café in May 2004 after a long night of blackjack at the Plaza. The night had started well, with rum-and-Cokes flowing freely and chips stacking up in front of its founder, who is known to the public only as Chuckmonster, and his then-girlfriend (they’ve since married) who goes by the screen name Miss Monkay. Then, as happens too often, a new dealer tapped in, and the chips worked their way back into the rack.
Still feeling the effects of their cocktails, the couple decided to head across the street for something to eat. There, they talked about Hunter S. Thompson and how times had changed since the gonzo journalist went looking for the American dream on the Strip. The conversation turned to the Internet, specifically why there wasn’t a site that told gonzo-style truths about Las Vegas.
“We sat there with keno cards and crayons, like drunks always do,” Chuckmonster explains, “and started doodling. We came up with the name VegasTripping, which had sex and drugs—we could pump our own rock ’n’ roll in. We bought the domain name as soon as we got back to L.A.”
Browsing the site’s archives, you get a sense of the Las Vegas that captivated Chuckmonster and his growing readership. At the time, MGM Mirage had yet to buy Mandalay Resort Group. The Stardust, Westward Ho and New Frontier were still open. Wynn Las Vegas was still under construction. And the Aladdin wasn’t yet Planet Hollywood.
It was an exciting time in Las Vegas, just before the boom really got going—and long before the boom went bust. And in the pre-Facebook online era, communities were coalescing around blogs and forums. Chuckmonster taught himself more than a few lines of code to get VegasTripping.com to where he wanted. Before long, the site started building a community of followers who wanted a slightly different spin on Vegas, something more profane, something more … Vegas.
Soon some of those followers became regular contributors. So in addition to getting Chuckmonster’s sometimes sardonic, sometimes poignant takes on the Vegas news of the moment, visitors now got a peek inside some of the Strip’s most luxurious suites from Mike E and JohnH; laser-accurate design appraisals from Blackjacker, a professional architect; and on-point satire (think The Onion moves to Vegas) from Misnomer.
It’s not always pretty, but it’s honest—and it’s drawn more than 20 million unique visitors since 2007. And whether they admit it or not, many of the Strip’s movers and shakers (or at least their minions) follow the site. For instance, Chuckmonster has butted legal heads with everyone from Wynn Resorts to AC/DC. And in September, someone with the screen name SamNazarian (whose IP, according to Chuckmonster, resolved to SBE’s L.A. headquarters) chimed in under a Chuckmonster post titled “How Sam Nazarian Spent the Sahara Liquidation Money” with an offer to “share a coffee one day soon and talk Vegas.” Chuckmonster has long been a vitriolic skeptic of Nazarian, and while the coffee summit has yet to take place, it speaks to the growing influence of the “new” media in Las Vegas that Nazarian made the effort.
“If you have a subject folks are interested in,” Chuckmonster says, “and foster a space where they can communicate, free of censorship, they will make amazing friendships. It’s corny to say, but it tickles the insides of my happiness to see everybody making such lasting friendships.”