Photography by Peter Baker
Irizarry, who has worked at Harrah’s since 1982, can attest to Drakos’ aptitude. When Drakos learned that Irizarry hailed from Detroit, he encouraged Irizarry to challenge him on his memorization skills. “He did it not only for me, but also the three other guys who work at the bell desk and are from Michigan,” confirms Irizarry. “He can calculate numbers in his head as fast as I can on a calculator.”
Drakos is used to having to prove himself. “When I do my gambling consulting, the hardest thing that I can do is convince people that I can do this,” he says, as if in disbelief that anyone is skeptical of a man whose three jobs are as a magician, a car salesman and a gaming aficionado.
Unfortunately for Drakos, there is no money to be made on the customer side of a carnival game. While world championships exist for such peculiar amusements as toe wrestling, wife carrying, cheese rolling and shin kicking, there is no sanctioned league for the 400 or so professional carnival gamers that Drakos says are out there. He defines the elites as people who “can win all the games all the time.”
The only time he remembers his brethren meeting to determine the world’s best happened 16 years ago. In 1996, Bunn Gourmet, a food-service company, sponsored an all-comers tournament in Las Vegas. There was no entry fee and no prize package, just bragging rights up for grabs. Nearly 500 players competed in a bracket-style, one-on-one elimination tournament at Circus Circus and the Excalibur. Each player picked eight games and attempted to outduel his opponent. The field was cut in half after each round until only one person remained. “Obviously I ended up being the best player,” Drakos matter-of-factly points out. To this day, people want to take a shot at him. “I had one guy from New York, and he considered himself the No. 1 player in the world,” he says. “We had a nice challenge match at Circus Circus, and I murdered him, 72 to 8.”
In years past, once Drakos returned from Vegas with his giant bears and bunnies, he would store them in one of two 576-square-foot storage garages he leases exclusively for this purpose. The day after Thanksgiving, he would take his cumulative winnings from the year to the showroom at Don Massey Cadillac, where he works. Most stuffed animals went on sale to the public with the proceeds going to Toys for Tots, the Lions Club and Special Olympics. Others were simply given away to local hospitals.
“To see what Peter has done is really phenomenal,” says Don Massey Cadillac sales manager Dana Tidwell. “When you see the faces of these kids, it really is worth it.”
In the end, the toys go to a good cause and Drakos scratches his lifelong itch to make sure he’s still the best. “I play against all these young kids in their 20s and 30s,” he says giddily. “They can’t believe that this old guy in his 60s can win every single time.”