Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

August 21, 2010

Vegas Gang - Meet The Gangsters: Chuckmonster

Posted by Hunter

It's been my experience that it's hard to find life-lasting friends as an adult. One of the most rewarding parts of being involved with this Web site or the podcast or whatever else is that I've been lucky enough to buck that trend a few extra times and meet some extraordinary people.

One of those guys is Dr. Charles S. Monster, Esq. I just love the guy.

I did a fairly long interview with Chuck earlier this week and I've posted it on the podcast feed for those interested. It's long enough that I considered breaking it in half but after listening, I think it flows better this way. I hope you enjoy it.

Check out the show:

Feel free to leave your comments below. If it's a question that you want asked on the show, please make that clear in your post. You can also send those to

Podcast-a-palooza - Oct. 30th, 2010. Be there.


Read archived comments (12 so far)
August 22, 2010 7:11 PM Posted by detroit1051

Great interview. Made me think I was sitting in on a private discussion between Hunter and Chuckmonster. Especially liked the concluding comments contrasting Aria and Cosmopolitan. Where Aria can be considered an extension of Bellagio, particularly concerning chefs/restaurants, Cosmo is the real "CityCenter". Analysis of Vdara was also excellent, but Murren won't like hearing it..

August 23, 2010 2:23 AM Posted by Ted Newkirk

Very insightful stuff. I actually sat on my back porch and listened to the entire thing. (I usually won't listen to 1.5 hours of stuff all in one shot). It kept my interest the entire way.

I second (and appreciate) the notion that there is no master plan in this business. You see what your readers are talking about, and follow their lead.

I also had to convince Google (AdSense) back in the day that I was not a "gambling" information site. I remember that well.

Certainly there are pros and cons about living here and doing this stuff. When you don't live here, you have to pack tons of work and research into a few days. Might make it feel like less of a vacation, and more of a job. Living here, you get to do things at your leisure. Case and point:

Earlier tonight, I drove over to Encore just to take a walk, relax, and have a drink. Tables were pretty full at the south end, not at the north end (I didn't bother to go over to Wynn). Slots were pretty empty. Bars had nice business. But at the end of the day, Encore is fun to be in because it seems like you are viewing the place in HD. The colors are so vibrant. Everything is so crisp and visually interesting.

I think that Chuck hit it on the head regarding (especially) the Twitter people (something about the gold standard, cough, cough). I posted what I think is their dirty little secret on Friess' blog in the comments:
And... once again, no sour grapes. On a pragmatic level, I'm not sure how that business model works in the long run.

As Chuck brushed upon, no question of the burn-out factor in this line of work. I wish them the best, but am wondering how long they can sustain it. But then again, we do little with Twitter so I may be dead wrong as I do NOT claim to be a social media expert.

Chuck did seem to have a slight contradiction: Saying that he tells it like it is, good or bad. Regardless of what the casino people thing. YET... holding back twice on an Aria review. Hoping that the third time (almost a year after opening) is a charm. For someone that specializes in "telling it like it is" and not being beholden to casino interests, one can question why he'd hold back like that.

Per the burn-out factor:

It is interesting to compare/contrast both Chuck and (Vegas)Rex at the approximately 6 year mark. Both are "renegades" who love various forms of metal music and both have families (or at least a wife in Chuck's case... isn't clear if he has kids). Disclaimer: I also had the really long hair for over two decades and was a headbanger. Chuck likes thrash, Rex likes Grunge, I like the Hair Bands. (There was no better place to meet chicks than at Bon Jovi or Motley shows).

Look... you have to LOVE and ADORE Las Vegas to make a really long term run at this. Yes... plenty of hard work involved. But 18 years after moving here, I have never gotten burnt out on Las Vegas. Driving the street that leads to my street, I have a clear view of 2/3 of the Las Vegas Strip. And, it never fails to make me smile. Even on a bad day. My visit to Encore made me happy tonight. Going downtown on a Tuesday night and boozing it up and playing $5 blackjack in the Las Vegas Club pleasure pit makes me happy. Both Rockhouse and Rhumbar (talk about opposite ends of the spectrum even though they are across the street from each other) make me happy. Seeing visitors having an awesome time never gets old to me.

Side Note: None of the above comped. I don't tell anyone when I'm showing up and per VIP invites, they have gotten old and we rarely use them.

Another Side Note: Greenspun writers may not be able to accept anything more than a $1 comp, but they sure seem to enjoy VIP invites (where just one drink violates that dictate). So... I'm not sure that I'd use that as a standard.

Bottom Line: Look, it is Vegas. Chuck made VT happen as a full-time gig as a recession set on and others ( VegasRex comes to mind) were chased out of town. No one can doubt Chuck's love for the place. But if it seems like a job, re-evaluate how/what you are doing. It may be a job (in terms of paying the bills), but the best job is when work is a pleasure. If following it 25/7, 365 gets tiring, find a way to re-fall (is that a word?) back in love with Las Vegas.

In my book, there is no better mistress.

August 23, 2010 8:54 PM Posted by mike_ch

Nice episode, bit long but still interesting. I've met Chuck twice at podpalooza and he's a great guy. His writing on VT leans a bit toward lampoon and the occasional snark, but in reality he's a much deeper personality than that. It only shows up now and then when he writes a big text-heavy feature that could be could be confused for a college lecture. Some stuff he wrote for the opening of Aria, and I think Encore, both are examples of that. Although I think it's clear by this point that ongoing buildup and eventual letdown of CityCenter caused him a bit of fatigue this year. He's not alone.

You know how you'd open the old issues of Rolling Stone and there was almost always on some page a black and white photo of guy with long hair and a scruffy beard on stage with a guitar of some kind; and he's just completely rocking out and you can see that he's totally lost in what he's doing? Chuck's like that guy, if only that guy was more interesting to talk to and loved Vegas.

Regarding the post above, Chuck also thought of holding back in the past about a Mirage review, but in eventually went with it. Certain companies *ahem* haven't been happy about that kind of thing. Even when it's coming from a resort he likes (I think the overstates the greatness/importance of the two Wynn hotels) he hasn't backed off from biting the hand that offers comps and press access. But even if you don't like it, he's not the only voice on the internet and if you don't like there's always some where else.

When Encore opened I said the blogs were going to face a big credibility check when Wynn Resorts began treating Hunter, Chuck, et al as legitimate press worthy of coddling, resort tours, and access similar to how they would the local press or national media. There's been a few close calls now and then, but nobody has thus far shied away from saying "we really hate this" when they do.

And it's a difficult row to hoe, because on one hand you have those two guys Ted linked to. On other side people like myself, Rex, and others who wish to puncture the 'image' of the Strip will never be coddled to any extent. The industry rewards fanboys, USUALLY tolerates honest supporters, but nobody loves a critic. I do not, honestly, expect to ever be invited to or noticed at a resort opening. "Oh, you're the guy who took pictures of the broken furniture in the lobby and said our mergers and acquisitions are killing the town! Welcome!"

I would really recommend nobody live in Vegas if they really want to enjoy the glitz, as Chuck talks about. For me, on the couple times I stayed in hotel rooms (Planet Hollywood, Aria, etc) and wrote about it on Strip Walk, it was always a much more enjoyable, enchanting experience to stay in the hotel overnight. It was never like that when I was to ride the bus there, wander around the casinos trying to not spend any money and talking pictures, and then ride home.

Even when I got off a bus that I had spent 30 minutes on sitting next to a smelly man and stepped off in front of Bally's to take the walk to Planet Ho and register for my room, I felt like I belonged. Without a room in one of the resorts, with thoughts on my mind as soon as I get there on how long it's going to take to get back to Summerlin and when I need to leave, I never ever felt like I belonged.

August 23, 2010 10:20 PM Posted by mike_ch

Also, I'm looking forward to the episode where Hunter interviews himself.

August 23, 2010 11:54 PM Posted by motoman

mike_ch, I was just going to post the same thing. I'd love to hear Hunter's answers to those same questions he asked Chuck. (Just wondering who'd do the actual interview...?) Amazing, insightful answers from Mr. Monster, and more proof that success is: 1) hard-won, 2) sometimes random, and 3) the result of a cripplingly devoted work ethic.

Now I'm not trying to start anything here, but I noticed the apparent increase in traffic over at VegasTripping that Chuck mentioned, and had been thinking that much of the same conversation/subject matter that has been occurring here since this site began, has been migrating over there as of late. Chuck was very diplomatic in answering Hunter's question about competitors, but isn't it the case that Hunter's been doing this design/business thing for approximately the same length of time, and the review stuff for even longer? There always has been a certain amount of overlap.

I had the privilege to meet both Hunter & Chuck at the Aria opening and both are great guys. The content here was what got me started reading these Vegas blogs; I had to warm up to the more gonzo style over at VT but am now hooked as well. (Ironic given that Hunter's namesake is responsible for the whole Gonzo thing.)

Thanks guys, for giving me *two* places to waste all my (limited) free time, thinking about Vegas.... ;-)

August 24, 2010 8:26 AM Posted by Hunter

I was thinking it could be kind of funny to interview myself - scoop out the questions from that interview and dub in new answers... though I'm kidding. If we do me as part of this series, someone else would have to do it.

As far as competition, VT has a very wide editorial breadth - far wider than anything I've achieved (or attempted). In that sense, I think CM is absolutely correct. Sure, there are some places where we overlap and certainly compete for people's attention but until I give everything up and work on this stuff full-time, it's hard for me to see it as anything more than friendly cooper-a-tition.

My true strength is in creating software and I haven't played that up enough vis-a-vis all this Vegas stuff. That should change once we get the new RV site (October) and then the next major versions of VM for iPhone and iPad (and someday Android) where I hope to add a lot more utility beyond just providing information. I have the capacity to make great tools and so far I've not exploited that to the fullest.

Beyond that, I also like lending my soapbox here to other talented writers like Jeff Simpson for his column and mike_ch for this trip/visit reports, etc... I hope to do more of that (want to write something? email me). I'm also having more fun with the podcast recently - doing this interview was fun and I want to do maybe kick the 'cast up a new notches.

FWIW, traffic here is actually up about 25% from last year so traffic growth at VT doesn't appear to be at the expense of TWHT/RV. The pie seems to be growing and it seems like there's enough for everyone.

August 24, 2010 4:51 PM Posted by BigHoss

Thanks, Hunter. Interesting stuff.

August 24, 2010 7:07 PM Posted by Dave

That was a fantastic interview. I liked how it ranged over many subjects--from Chuck's background to web development to the state of Vegas today--in a pretty seamless way.

August 24, 2010 11:47 PM Posted by motoman

ditto, and exactly why I'd have no problem with Hunter dubbing in his own answers to the questions from this interview: Those guys seem like birds of a feather, as far as this Vegas web business goes.

August 25, 2010 2:28 PM Posted by Javi

Great interview. I also loved the two questions at the end about CityCenter and the Cosmo - I think Chuck hit the nail on the head with his assessment of the excitement that the Cosmo seems to bring. It's definitely something to look forwards in the months leading up to December 15th.

August 27, 2010 6:59 PM Posted by Socalduck

Great stuff guys, thanks! Chuck, I'm looking forward to your next Macau report. Also, your CC comments, and especially your analysis of Vdara and Crystals are spot-on. Let's hope Murren and Co. are paying attention.

August 28, 2010 5:50 PM Posted by BillyInLasVegas

Absolutely loved the interview. I started listening to it in the car on my way out to our usual Friday hangout spot and had to finish listening to it in the bar.

Also I couldn't agree more with Mr. Monster and his assessment of Aria and CItyCenter. To me the biggest difference between Aria and Bellagio is the Steve Wynn factor. Everything at Bellagio even though it's been fondled by MGM is still pure Steve Wynn and what I call old school Mirage Resorts.

Anyway I could go on and on... Keep up the awesome work guys.

Can't wait to see you all at the Podcast-a-palooza!