SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) - According to Dr. Teresa Garate with the Gateway Foundation, Illinois takes the top spot for the state with the most gaming terminals.

Garate said while gambling can be fun for some, for others, it is a dangerous game.

"We have the most video gaming terminals than any other state. Most of them are in our rural communities," Garate said. "It's just like any other substance use disorder. People can gamble and go to the casinos, but addiction is a disease of the brain, and both gambling and other substances trigger the brain reward system."

Garate said placing bets has become too convenient, especially during the pandemic.

"The pandemic is when Illinois legalized sports betting on a mobile app, so now it's even easier to access," Garate said.

Dr. Rodney Walker with TASC said this has caused addiction to skyrocket.

"There are about two million people in the United States that have an estimated problem with gambling," Walker said.

It wasn't until this past year, Gateway started providing gambling addiction services to the community.

"We started offering it back in the fall," Garate said. "We were awarded a grant from the state from the Illinois Department of Human Services."

Garate said gambling addiction has been dubbed the invisible disease.

"You're not going to overdose. You're not going to end up in the hospital," Garate said. "It's really severe. They get to the point where they've lost everything, and there's just a sense of despair."

According to Garate, gambling addiction is hitting the younger generations the hardest.

"Six percent of U.S. college students have a gambling disorder, which is high," Garate said. "People with gambling disorder are 2.5 times more likely to commit suicide. Twenty percent of people with a gambling disorder attempt suicide."

Community-based organizations, like Gateway and TASC, will launch a series of virtual presentation to educate the public starting the last week of March.

"There's a shame around a person who may have a problem with gambling  addiction," Walker said. "We want to remove that shame and stigma and let them know there is help available."

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