TV host Phil McGraw, better known as Dr. Phil, has given advice to numerous people over the years. In one of his episodes, Dr. Phil took on the case of John, a gambling addict whose life was spiraling out of control.
John lost $60,000 through various forms of gambling. He also lives with his mother, Shelly, and doesn’t pay rent.
Making matters worse is that John has three children, all of whom live with his girlfriend, Sarah. He doesn’t work and was unable to provide for the kids.
McGraw invited John and his family members onto Dr. Phil to discuss the situation. What followed were revelations of a massive betting problem that’s been spurred on by the gambler’s fallacy.
Keep reading to find out more on this story along with how John can help save himself by understanding the gambler’s fallacy.
What Is John’s Backstory?
John was a good athlete growing up. He excelled in baseball and hockey and was known as the athlete of the family.
Prior to high school ending, he began working 40 hours per week. John also started dating Sarah, who lived in a different state at the time.
These events led him to stop attending high school just short of graduating. The 25-year-old never completed the extra half credit he needed to graduate, nor has he made an effort to get a GED.
John’s reason for neither graduating nor getting his GED is that he’s never had any trouble finding work without an education.
He and Sarah eventually became pregnant with twins. Just four months after having twins, they became pregnant with a third child.
Up until the birth of the twins, Sarah didn’t realize that John had a severe gambling problem. However, she eventually questioned why he wasn’t bringing in any money to support the kids.
The couple lived with Sarah’s parents for a while. But John eventually moved out after feeling that he was being judged by her parents.
He then moved into his parents’ home and began leeching off them. To this day, Shelly continues to cook his food and do his laundry.
John’s father, who declined to come on Dr. Phil, has been providing him with spending money. Both parents are finally fed up with their son’s gambling problem and want him to get help.
Dr. Phil Intervenes
Dr. Phil brought John, Sarah, Shelly, and Bobby (John’s brother) onto his show in late January 2019. Sarah, Shelly, and Bobby discussed John’s gambling problem before he stepped onto the set.
Much of the focus was put on Shelly for enabling her son. By cooking and cleaning for him, she doesn’t demand any accountability from John. She and her husband also let their son live rent-free in the basement.
Shelly said that she was beginning to feel like a prisoner in her own home. John lashes out whenever she tries talking to him about the gambling problem. She’s also afraid of never seeing her grandchildren again if she cuts John off.
Dr. Phil discussed how John has been stealing money from both Shelly and Sarah. He’d most recently took $3,000 from Sarah’s purse to fund his gambling habit.
McGraw noted that Shelly is a huge part of the problem. She enables John by doing everything for him.
“You feel like you’re helping him now, but you’re really not,” Dr. Phil said to Shelly. “What you’re doing for him, having him in the basement, giving him money, allowing this to happen, you’re doing that to make yourself feel better.
“You’re not doing that to help him, because you’re hurting him. You’re doing this to make your anxiety go down.
“You are doing this so you know where he is and you know he’s safe. You’re doing this to make yourself feel better, which is very selfish.”
McGraw ended the introduction by telling Shelly that she needs to stop giving in to John’s manipulations.
John Describes His Gambling Problem
John began gambling in his late teenage years. The activity went from being a hobby to an addiction by age 20.
His favorite places to gamble include land-based casinos and poker rooms. However, he’s also content to play at online casinos and poker sites, or just buy scratch-off tickets.
John knows that he has a problem and wants to fix it. But every time that he’s made a mental attempt, he falls back into the abyss.
The father-of-three has lost an estimated $60,000 through betting. No end appears in sight, and he continues to gamble. He admitted to gambling less than two weeks prior to the show’s taping, with poker being his biggest pitfall.
“Obviously I’m extremely competitive, and poker is an extremely competitive game,” he said. “To say that I haven’t seen success, I mean I have seen little spurts of success. And knowing that I can basically get back what I’ve lost…that’s what keeps bringing me back.”
John Is Just One of Many Who Fall for the Gambler’s Fallacy
John’s problems don’t stem entirely from being self-destructive or being afraid of success. His addiction also comes from having too much self-confidence in his gambling abilities.
He believes that he’s good enough to win everything back based on spurts of success. This thought process is known as the gambler’s fallacy, where one believes that past results can dictate future outcomes.
Many poker players are prone to this problem. They overestimate their skills and think that their losses are a result of bad luck.
John developed a lot of confidence from his successes in high school baseball and hockey. Therefore, he likely expects this success to continue in poker and other forms of gambling.
Here’s an example on why he may be trapped in this mindset:
- John plays poker and loses $600.
- He comes back the next session and wins $300 (bankroll at -$300).
- John thinks that his previous losses are attributed to bad luck.
- He plays again and loses another $200 (bankroll at -$500).
- But he still clings to the $300 win and thinks that he can get everything back.
The biggest problem with the gambler’s fallacy is that past results don’t have any bearing on the future. John may think that he’s due to win because of previous losses. But these past losses have nothing to do with his next gambling session.
Unfortunately, those who fall for the gambler’s fallacy fail to realize this. They think that because of past losses and/or short-term successes, they’re due to win the money back.
Life Coach Mike Bayer Tries to Help John
John’s gambling problem is not only causing him to lose money, but also avoid working. He’s had a problem for so long that he’s caught in a daily gambling loop.
John wakes up every day thinking of how he can win back losses, rather than being a better father and/or finding a job. Dr. Phil bought life coach Mike Bayer onto the show in order to help John break out of his “deeply entrenched” behaviors.
Bayer’s philosophy is that people don’t just break bad habits cleanly. They instead need to replace them with other habits.
Bayer explained that one of the first things John needs to do is pour himself into looking for a job. Spending 50 hours per week looking for work will help him find employment and have less time to waste on gambling.
The life coach also noted that John’s environment needs to change. He currently lives in his parents’ dirty basement, which “isn’t an environment that’s going to help him win.”
Some of the other changes that Bayer suggested to John include:
- Doing his own laundry.
- Not arguing with his mom.
- Taking care of himself.
- Telling casinos to put him on a self-exclusion list.
Dr. Phil added that John needs to take steps to set himself up for success and quit relying on his own willpower.
“Willpower is a myth,” said McGraw. “You succeed by programming yourself for success.
“I can cure any addiction. Just let me parachute you into the Antarctic, because there’s no cigarettes, there’s no alcohol, there’s no drugs, no gambling – you are cured.
“I have controlled your environment. So let’s do the same thing here; let’s control your environment and control what you do.”
Bayer added that John should have somebody else handle money he makes from a job. Doing so prevents him from blowing everything he earns on casino games.
What’s the Next Step for John?
Dr. Phil closed the episode by saying that they’re going to send John to Dallas’ Lawlis Peavey PsychoNeuroPlasticity (PNP) Center. This facility scans patients’ brains to figure out if an addictive habit has changed their brain chemistry.
McGraw has also assigned John a full-time life coach. The goal is to get him more involved in his kids’ lives so that Sarah doesn’t have to carry the entire parenting load.
Dr. Phil noted that John has been an athlete for much of his life. Therefore, he’s used to being coached and would respond well to such treatment.
John seemed to embrace the methods that McGraw is using to cure his addiction. He now looks forward to a better life that involves working full-time and being a real father.
The vast majority of gamblers can go to the casino or buy lottery tickets without serious incident. They treat betting as a hobby and only put a small portion of their money towards the activity.
However, a small percentage of gamblers are addicts who have trouble controlling themselves. They may spiral out of control and experience the same problems that John has, including stealing, manipulating, and neglecting responsibilities.
John was once a disciplined athlete who excelled in hockey and baseball. However, things went badly when he quit school and became more ingrained in gambling.
His girlfriend, Sarah, didn’t realize how bad the problem was until after they had twins. She went on birth control afterward, but still managed to get pregnant with a third child.
Having three kids wasn’t the wakeup call John needed to get his gambling urges under control. In fact, he only fell deeper into the hole and began stealing money to feed his addiction.
The gambler’s fallacy appears to be at the root of the problem. John admits himself that he’s spurred on by the hope of winning everything back through poker.
What he fails to realize, though, is that past results don’t have any bearing on future gambling sessions. He’s no more likely to win money in the next session as he was in the past.
Luckily, Dr. Phil appears to have John started on the right path towards becoming a productive person. He’ll now be getting a brain scan and life coaching to help improve his outlook on gambling and life in general.
Nothing was mentioned about his belief in the gambler’s fallacy. Therefore, I hope he doesn’t repeat the same mistake of thinking that he can win back the $60,000.
The treatment methods that have been recommended appear to be a great start. Now that his problem is out in the open, John will be more motivated to make things right.