Conversation with Sonya - Founder of Vegas Message Board

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Today I had the privilege of speaking with Sonya, the founder of Sonya has a fun and effervescent personality and her passion for Las Vegas and the VMB community really came across during our conversation. Over the past 15 years Vegas Message Board has grown to become, in my opinion, the best place on the internet for savvy casino players to exchange tips and share information. - the best Las Vegas message board in the… style="width: 494px; height: 146px;" />

(the best Vegas-themed message board in the galaxy)

Craig from UrComped: Thank you so much for joining us Sonya. Why don’t we start the interview with the questions that you ask every new member of Vegas Message Board. First, “who are you?” 

Sonya from VMB: That's a hard one.  And I know it's a hard one for people on the board too. I'm a forty something year old, married, with no kids.  I live in western Washington, about a 35-minute ferry ride to Seattle. 



Craig:  Did you grow up in western Washington?

Sonya: I actually grew up in the San Francisco Bay area.  My husband got “dot com’d” when the tech bubble burst in two thousand and one and I said this is our opportunity.  Let's get out of the bay area. My family is from Portland so we were really looking in Portland and then he got a call for an interview in Seattle.. I said, “That's where they throw the fish, right?”   All of the sudden we were moving here, so it was a big change but it was good. The only problem is that it’s just a little too far from Vegas, that's my only complaint about it! I'm no longer a seven hour drive or a quick flight from Vegas anymore.  It takes a little more planning to get there than it did before.



Craig: Tell us about your love of Vegas. 

Sonya: Oh my gosh.  Vegas has been my happy place since the moment I discovered it.  It is just the place that I can go to let my hair down and be a complete and total goof and nobody looks at you weird.  You can walk up and down the strip wearing a great big pink feather boa and everyone just thinks it’s OK.  Everybody's there to have a good time and I love the whole vibe to it.  If I hit a good hand on video poker, some stranger is always there to high-five or give me a pat on the back or celebrate with me.  It's just a ton of fun.  There's just nothing I don't like about it. 



Craig: So Video Poker’s your game?

Sonya: Oh yeah.  I am a video poker degenerate. I can sit in front of a machine all day long if people will let me. 

Positive… style="width: 400px; height: 300px;" />

(Positive thinking and visualization is the secret to success in Video Poker...)

Craig: And where do you like to stay in Las Vegas?

Sonya: I like to hotel hop.  I like to stay in a lot of different places.  The last few trips I've done have been to The Mirage or Treasure Island depending on who gives me the better rates and where people I’m meeting up with are staying.



Craig: Where do you wish you could stay?

Sonya: This is a really tough question because there are so many options.  I really enjoy reading the trip reports in the Vegas Message Board community and seeing all the different places that everybody stays from the off strip budget hotels all the way up to  our high rollers that get to stay in these insane villa suites.

I have to say that I would love to stay in one of those over the top high roller suites with all the amenities.  I mean just once just once I'd like to stay in one of those and just have a weekend of luxury. 


Sonya's High Roller… style="width: 400px; height: 271px;" />

(Sonya's ideal high-roller suite...)


Craig: When is your next trip to Vegas? 

Sonya: I don't actually have one planned right now which is super sad.  There is a group of long time members on the board that  meet up in Las Vegas twice a year, since around two thousand and five.  And I try and go with them when they go because they're like my family.  But I just heard that they're not going this Spring.  People couldn't coordinate all their schedules.. So I may have to do a solo trip because I've got the itch pretty bad since I did not get to go last year!


Craig:  What do you think of the casinos closer to where you live in Washington?

Sonya:  I'm not a fan. I have a little casino ten minutes from my house.  When we first moved here the whole thing was in a  tent in a dirt parking lot.  we went there when we first moved here and I thought where is the video poker? I found a block of four machines way back in this dark corner.  And then the waitress comes up “cocktails cocktails” and I ordered a drink it she says, “That'll be eight dollars.” “Eight dollars??”  You know, I got this crappy video poker and you want me to pay for drinks?? I think I have been back there maybe twice since then.

Gotta love the tent… style="width: 399px; height: 259px;" />

(gotta love the tent casinos...)

There are a couple more Vegas style casinos in Washington that are bigger.  They've got more restaurants, more games, more of the Vegas-style vibe.  But I really only go there maybe once every year or two years when we're driving through and usually just for food and while waiting for a table I might drop a twenty in a machine but I don't really gamble here in Washington.  


Craig:  Anything funny or amazing every happen to you in Las Vegas?

Sonya: Well of course I have to plead the Fifth on most of those because it could be used against me in the court of public opinion…. But you know something funny or amazing happens during nearly all of our gatherings that we have.  Whenever I'm going to be in Vegas I always put something out on the board and will say “hey I'm going to be at such and such a bar or such and such a location at this time. Come and have some drinks.”  And those have always been the some of the times that we've just had the most unexpected fun.  Complete and total unexpected fun where you see somebody lurking around the outside of our group and then they come up and say, “Sonya?” and then five minutes later we're all best friends telling stories and teasing each other and having a good time and it's like I feel like we were friends forever after that.


Craig: What inspired you to start Vegas Message Board? 

Sonya: In October of ‘95 I was in a long distance relationship my boyfriend who lived out in the Mojave Desert and I was living in the San Francisco Bay area.  We were dating but he was going to be gone for my birthday.  I was saying to him “I can't believe you're missing my birthday!” Before we met he had arranged this mountain bike trip with a bunch of his friends out to the canyon lands in Utah.  And he said “well actually I'm going to be coming home through Las Vegas on your birthday.  We should go for the weekend.” 

I called and around some of the hotels and I managed to book the AAA rate at Circus Circus for the Manor rooms.  I believe that was around $130 a night.  But it included free buffets, so what a deal right?  And on that trip, we did everything wrong.  Everything wrong! We ate at the Circus Circus buffet then we thought we could just walk from Circus Circus to the other end of the strip because everything looks like it's just right over there and then we finally gave up around Bally's and we were walking back trying to hail a taxi cab from Las Vegas Boulevard. I mean we just didn't know anything going into the trip! 

When we got back from that trip, I was in love with Las Vegas I had a fantastic time and thought, “there has to be information out there on how to do this.”  I found alt vacation Las Vegas.  The old usenet group.  And I started learning.  Just started gathering information, gathering information.  The frustrating thing about the Usenet was it was full of trolls and spammers and flame bait and all that and there was one person in particular that whenever Main Street Station came up his only response was “that place is a dump.” 

I was staying at Main Street Station regularly and the reason I was staying there is because my budget was tiny, and my twenty-five cent Single line video poker got me free rooms.  I thought the casino was beautiful and although the rooms weren't the Four Seasons but they were clean and comfortable.  it made me mad that he was saying this.   

I had just come back from a trip to Main Street Station and happened to have taken a bunch of pictures of my room and all around the casino of all the antiques and all the just amazing things that they have in that casino.  I had just taken an H.T.M.L. class at the community college for giggles.  And so I threw up a GeoCities page that had all my room pictures from Main Street Station so that every time he called the place a dump I could post my picture and say, “No it isn't!”  And then I started adding to that page. I created some F A Q's of questions that people asked all the time that I could just link to because I'm a lazy typer.

 About a year later the usenet group had gotten so bad that you couldn't read it anymore. It was just too awful all the time.  One of the people had started a Yahoo email group to take our Vegas discussions there where it could be more moderated.  But it got so popular that people started complaining that there were too many emails every day.   Suddenly there was no discussion allowed you were just to share information and I thought, "this isn't fun anymore." 

Sonya's original site," style="width: 386px; height: 130px;" />

(Travel2Vegas...where it all began)

So I bought  And I got some free message board software and put it up and then spent the next three years pretty much just talking to myself.  For the first three years we had maybe a hundred members.  And then finally it started to take off and it was exactly what I wanted. A nice open exchange of thoughts and ideas about all things Las Vegas. But at one point, it was getting too big. I had all these pictures and all these articles I'd written on one side of the website and then the other side was a message board and it was getting to be an issue with the cheap internet hosting we had. 

Then Hunter from VegasMate approached me because he had the domain.  He was a member of the board at the time and said that he was really focused on developing VegasMate and wasn’t going to do anything with the domain. So we made a deal for the for the domain name and I moved the board to that url and put that on its own server and it's just grown and grown and grown since then. 


Who doesn't love Las Vegas?… style="width: 369px; height: 277px;" />

(Who doesn't love Las Vegas??)


Craig: Why do you think VMB has become so popular?

Sonya: I'd like to say it's my sparkling personality but really I think it's the sense of community that we all share.  We all have those naysayers in our lives that say “oh you're going to Vegas again...” but VMB is a place where we all get it.  It doesn't matter what it is.  You had a rough night where you went on tilt and blew a big wad of cash. Or you got long hauled by a taxi cab.  You know whatever it is, we get it.  Whatever your experience.  We've all been there.  And so it's that sense of camaraderie and it doesn't matter if you're a low roller who plays a penny slot or you're one of on our high rollers who bet an annual salary on one hand.  We have over one thousand people on the site per day and we all have that love of the Vegas experience and I think that makes it so popular.

And also the fact that we're moderated contributes to the popularity.  My staff and I work very hard to keep the drama to a minimum.  But we should be able to talk about anything.  You know like we've got a thread on the board about hooker stories.  My advertisers hate that, but it's part of Vegas! The strip clubs and all of that.  It's part of Vegas.  And to say “no you can't talk about that part of Las Vegas” - I don't want to do that. As long as you're nice and have respect for other people, I don't have a problem with anything you have to say. I think people like that about VMB.


Craig: Can you give me an example of something you learned on the VMB board recently?

Sonya: Oh yes.  Someone was talking about What do you do with your jacket when you travel to Vegas in the winter time and I thought “I just don't wear a jacket I just run to the taxi line or get where I’m going as fast as possible” and someone said “Why don't you check it at the bell desk?”  And I thought that is genius.  I had never thought of that. 


Craig:   What is the hardest part about running VMB?

Sonya:   I think really the hardest part is the 24/7 nature of being an admin.  You know we have members from all over the world and there's never a time when someone is not posting.  So problems can pop up any time and I have to be ready.  There’s times when I have plans and there's a problem and I have to say to my poor husband, “sorry you have to wait.  I have to take care of this.”  And I think that's the most difficult and finding time to step away take a break.

 It's a labor of love to run a big community like this.  Sometimes I bang my head against the desk and ask “why am I doing this?” but then something always comes and reminds me. For example, I got an email from someone who had planned a family reunion in Vegas and they had found Vegas Message Board and had asked questions and gathered information.  And their trip was a huge success everybody had a great time they all ate great restaurants and saw wonderful shows and they had hotel rooms for all the different budget levels of everybody of who was attending. The note basically said “Thank you without Vegas message board this trip with not have been as great” and then I think “oh yeah. Now I remember why I'm doing this.”



Craig: I imagine there's some cost associated with having a site as popular as Vegas Message Board.  How do you earn money to support the site?

Sonya: I have Google's Ad Sense on the front page.  That generates enough to keep the lights on and I'm affiliated with a few other things like MGM Mirage and Caesar's affiliate programs as well as some booking sites like VMB generates a small percentage for anyone who books through us. And sometimes if we have a big expense or need to invest in some software I'll  do a fundraiser like right now we're giving VMB wristbands to anyone who donates $5 or more.   

We have a donate button on the board and we have one long-time member who loves to send me a donation of $7.77 every year on Elvis’ birthday

I'm also working on putting up a store front for like t-shirts and other gear. People have been telling me that they really like trying to spot other board members while they're in Las Vegas. People have been asking for golf shirts and t-shirts and hats for a while so I'm just now starting to work on putting something like that together.

The KING inspires kindness and… style="width: 283px; height: 302px;" />

(Elvis inspires giving and kindness)


Craig: What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t running VMB?

Sonya:  Well like I said it is a twenty-four seven job so the times when I'm not running the board are pretty small.  I love my dog.  I am really interested in animal behavior and dog training so I work a lot with her.  I also enjoy knitting.  There is a group here at our local yarn shop and I spend a lot of time with them. 

Now this is my BIG secret… I sometimes like to travel places that aren't Las Vegas.  My husband is an avid mountain biker and so we like to go places like Bend, Oregon or Idaho and he brings his bike and I bring a book or some knitting and I just hang out in my camping chair while he goes and does his thing.  It’s good for us. 



Craig: What’s the future of VMB?

Sonya:   Oh gosh.  Who knows? You know technology is always changing so there's always something new on the horizon that we're looking at.  When we started using Tapatalk app with the board that really increased the number of live trip reports because it made it so easy for people to post their photos onto the board.  And that was a really big boom for the trip reports section.

We’re also in the process of getting ready to move to some new software and I'm hoping to incorporate that same mobile technology and new design to make it easy for people to be able to share information while it's happening right there in Vegas.  That's a big important part of where we're headed next and I'm hoping to add some new bells and whistles and toys for us to play with once we get the new software up and running. 



Craig: Your moderators are amazing.  Where do you find the folks that help you with VMB? 

Sonya: I swear the moderators are gifts from heaven.  I don't know where they came from but I'm so glad they did.  All of them started as just regular board members.  SH0CK is my go to guy for all things behind the scenes and he has saved my bacon more times than I can count with the technical side of the board. He's just been absolutely invaluable and he started as a member back in 2001.  We have several other moderators that came in around 2002-2003 and have just been with us forever.  Everybody started out as people who were offering up good advice, sharing their expertise and displayed a love for the board and shared an understanding of my vision of what I wanted with VMB.  And I would say to them “hey you want to completely thankless job for no money??” 


The last few that we've added a few people to fill in when we would lose somebody.  You know someone would leave who had a certain expertise and one of my other moderators would say to me, “Hey have you seen so and so? They might be a really good fit for this place” and then I'll keep an eye on them for a little bit and read what they're writing and then approach and send them an email to check their interest.


It’s a tough job and they sometimes take a lot of abuse that I don't think they deserve.  I just can't tell them enough how much they mean to me. I tell them on a regular basis that Vegas Message Board would not be standing if it wasn't for each and every one of them.  I couldn't do it alone.  they dedicate so much of their free time.  They all have jobs they all have families and interests outside of VMB but they love the board, they love what we've created and there are invested in keeping it going.  I wish that I would have hit that Powerball so I could buy them all a high roller suite for a weekend and just wine and dine them . Someday hopefully I’ll get rich and I'll be able to pay some around… but they probably shouldn’t hold their breath. 


VMB's super hero team of moderators keep the site running 24/7 (just like Las Vegas)… style="width: 500px; height: 219px;" />

(Sonya's team of superhero moderators)


Craig: Where did those cool countdown timers come from?

Sonya:  Those actually were a suggestion from somebody on the board who saw them, I believe on a wedding or pregnancy site that was counting down to the “big day”. We thought we could have different designs for the different hotels in Las Vegas that people are counting down to and now we've got forty something timers of different backgrounds. It’s been a lot of fun. People really like having that in their signature on the board.  


Craig: Sonya thank you so much for spending time with me and sharing your story as well as the story of Vegas Message Board. Keep up the great work!

Sonya: Thank you!


Let us know what you think of the interview by commenting below.