Wynn Resorts Ltd. will spend more than US$100 million this football season marketing its new sports-betting app, showing how seriously casino operators are now taking the fast-growing business of online wagering.

The company on Monday debuted a new TV ad directed by and starring actor Ben Affleck and basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, a brand ambassador for the company’s app, WynnBet. 

Separately, the National Football League is expected to announce that Wynn is one of four more companies designated as authorized gambling partners, along with BetMGM, PointsBet and Fox Bet. In April, the league granted similar, but more extensive, status to three other operators, DraftKings Inc., Caesars Entertainment Inc. and FanDuel, a division of Ireland’s Flutter Entertainment Plc.

The league is designating the seven companies as preferred operators as a way to generate revenue for team owners and limit clutter during broadcasts. Each NFL broadcast will feature a maximum of six sports-betting ads. The first three partners enjoy more extensive rights, such as the use of NFL logos in their marketing, sponsorships with league media properties and the use of game highlights. The deal with those three is worth upward of US$1 billion over five years for the league.

Sports betting has taken off in the U.S. since the Supreme Court allowed states outside of Nevada to offer it three years ago. Now more than half have approved it, and PlayUSA, a gambling information site, estimates the amount of legal wagers on college and pro football could nearly triple to US$20 billion this season.

FanDuel and DraftKings, the leaders in daily fantasy sports, were early entrants in online sports betting. The two companies spent US$311 million on TV ads last year, according to the research firm Kantar, more than three times what they did in 2019.

“NFL is basically like our holiday season,” DraftKings Chief Executive Officer Jason Robins told analysts earlier this month.  “It’s when we acquire the most new players and reactivate large portions of the player base.”

Traditional casinos operators, including Caesars, MGM Resorts International and Penn National Gaming Inc., have stepped up their online game recently. Caesars said it will spend more than US$1 billion over the next two and a half years to acquire new customers. It recently began offering a US$5,000 risk-free first bet for those who sign up. 

Penn agreed to buy Canadian online operator Score Media & Gaming Inc. this month in a deal the companies valued at US$2 billion. MGM is extending its ad campaign with actor Jamie Foxx and continuing its own generous promotional offers, including the chance to win US$50,000 by guessing the weekend’s top-six scoring NFL teams in order.

“We operate in a very crowed, competitive landscape,” said Matt Prevost, chief revenue officer for BetMGM. “Some consumers will gravitate toward a big headline number.”

Wynn, which owns casinos in Las Vegas, Boston and Macau, is merging its interactive unit with a special purpose acquisition vehicle in a deal expected to close this year. The new entity will have some US$640 million in cash to deploy.

Wynn’s spending this season includes a mix of TV ads, sponsorships and other customer-acquisition initiatives, according to Craig Billings, CEO of the interactive unit. 

The company’s app has features that let customers interact with friends and other players, something Affleck emphasizes in the commercials when he takes betting advice from others. Wynn is considering buying a spot during the Super Bowl. The marketing will be focused on the six states where Wynn currently offers online betting, with as many as four more added by the end of the season.

“The pace of adoption at the state level is like nothing I’ve seen over the course of my career,” Billings said.