Photography by Peter Baker
Peter Drakos is a carnival huckster’s worst nightmare. On any given stroll where there are games of chance to be played, the part-time auto associate, gambling consultant and magician wins more stuffed animals than most people win in a lifetime. “If I walked away not winning 40 or 50 animals, I would consider that a loss,” he says. Leaving empty-handed simply is not an option.
Drakos estimates he has won an average of 5,500 stuffed animals each year since 1972, rounding that out to approximately 220,000 during his lifetime. Although he plays with a mercenary zeal, Drakos’ heart is in the right place. Over the years, he has given away the majority of his prizes to charities for children. “It is unbelievable to watch him,” says his wife, Veronica. “I am in awe that something he is so talented at makes other people so happy.”
The 64-year-old Drakos, who prefers the moniker Peter Magic, lives in Livonia, Mich., and frequently flexes his midway muscle at Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, or at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio, during the summer season. But three to five times a year, he takes his single-minded obsession as the unofficial world’s greatest carnival-games player to Las Vegas.
Drakos flies solo, and his trips unfold according to a time-honored schedule. He lands at McCarran International Airport at 9 a.m., rents a cargo van and checks into Harrah’s Las Vegas, where his VIP status grants him complimentary meals and lodging. By 10 a.m., he is making his first “run,” as he calls it, a three-casino mad dash that begins at Circus Circus. Drakos, a thick-chested man with a bushy white mustache and nasal-drip voice, wears a Harrah’s polo shirt and Nike sneakers. In the back of his trousers, he tucks four folded trash bags — for toting his winnings.
At Circus Circus, Drakos heads straight for the 12 arcade games that he has mastered. His favorite is flipping a quarter on a plate, where his self-calculated odds are 4 to 1. “The trick is to throw the quarter up in the air for height,” he says. “The higher you throw it, the straighter it will come down.” Once, at the Michigan State Fair in 1982, Drakos landed 14 quarters on a plate in a row, missed one, then landed 10 more in a row. “In 15 minutes, I won 32 human-sized bears and they closed down the booth,” he recalls.
After the plates, Drakos moves on to lobbing a softball into a milk can. “This game is all about angles and backspin and where to hit it on the top of the can,” he explains. “I start the softball below the can and try to throw it with backspin up to the top of the circular lip, so the ball rolls back toward the hole in the can.” This is his weakest play, yet he still wins once out of every six tries.