At an event late last February in a trendy Miami neighbourhood, politicians and real estate moguls mingled with artists and musicians. In between sets of jazz and poetry, they took turns lambasting the prospect of big casinos moving to town, potentially bringing traffic, crime and other social ills.
The object of their revulsion was Genting Berhad, the Malaysian gambling company that last year swooped up Dollar500m of prime Miami waterfront real estate and announced plans to build what some described as the world's largest casino.
"We don't need superficial gamblers who are looking to empty our pockets and not add value to our community," Tony Goldman, a prominent real estate developer, said to the crowd.
The organisers of the event, called Make Art Not Casinos, could be accused of beating a dead horse. A bill to legalise casino gaming in Florida had been pulled from the state legislature just weeks before, and Genting pledged to develop its new real estate without a casino component.
Yet casino opponents were not appeased. "This battle is so far from over," said Dan Gelber, a former member of the Florida Senate who is now lobbying against casinos. "This is going to be a battle for the next two years and a battle we can't afford to lose."
If Genting's opponents are speaking in hyperbole, it is because they believe the odds are stacked against them. International gaming groups are frantically looking for new markets as they struggle to find their footing in the wake of the financial crisis.
Jockeying for the lucrative Asian market has resulted in the acrimonious feud between Steve Wynn and business partner Kazuo Okada. New York and Massachusetts are loosening gaming laws as they search for new revenue, and Florida could follow suit. And Genting, already a force in Asia and the UK, has focused on Miami as its next target.
Last May it shocked the city by buying the waterfront home of the Miami Herald for Dollar236m. It quickly assembled a collection of nearby properties, doubling its investment.
Then in September, it revealed its plans for a project designed to attract international tourists, especially those from Latin America. There would be massive undulating towers, thousands of rooms, theatres, restaurants and a rooftop lagoon. And if Genting had its way, Resorts World Miami, as it was dubbed, would be bigger than any casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
But Genting's plans had a big caveat. Before it could build its casino, it would have to change Florida law. Casino gambling is not broadly legal in Florida, though there is some gaming on Indian land and racetracks. So Genting hired an army of lobbyists, and soon members of the state legislature proposed bills that would legalise some casino gaming in Miami Dade County.
Opponents of the plan also organised swiftly, focusing on the social costs associated with casinos in urban areas. "You're going to end up with additional crime," said Frank Nero, president of the Beacon Council, an economic development group that opposes casinos. "This is not a benign industry. You have to constantly feed the beast."
Concerns also emerged over whether Genting could really deliver the millions of new visitors it promised. "I don't know where all those bodies are going to come from," said Manny Diaz, former mayor of Miami.
Nonetheless, Genting's efforts got the attention of Las Vegas's casino titans, with Bernstein Research estimating that Miami might steal up to 15 per cent of Las Vegas's business. By November Mr Wynn was spotted eating stone crabs in South Beach and talking up the city's potential. Sheldon Adelson, chief executive of the Sands casino empire, also signalled his interest in the city.
Genting says gambling is just a part of its project, which will also include family-friendly attractions. "Gaming is a small part of an integrated resort," said Jesse Manzano-Plaza, vice-president of government relations for Resorts World Miami.
Some community leaders were won over by Genting's promises of new tourism and pledges to privately finance the project. And many in south Florida favour broad gaming reform that, in addition to allowing for new developments, would bring stronger regulation to Indian gaming and racetracks.
"It is a different day for south Florida," said Barry Johnson, president of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, pointing out that the financial crisis had forced the area to look for new revenues. "We have to ask what this would mean to the fabric of our community, but also to continuing economic development and international tourism."
But Genting hit a bump in November, when Colin Au, the company's head of the Americas, appeared before the Florida state legislature to promote his project. Brushing off criticism from opponents, he twice called their arguments "bullshit", putting off many of the attendant politicians.
Anti-gaming lobbyists saw an opening and redoubled their efforts. Disney backed a group called No Casinos and lobbied against the legislation. "Gambling runs counter to Florida's family-friendly tourism brand and it would hurt efforts to diversify Florida's economy," Disney said.
On February 3 the bill was pulled from consideration. Gaming proponents were one vote away from a victory, but could not muster the final support needed, ending the prospects of gaming legalisation for the year.
Genting says it will still develop its Dollar500m site on the Miami waterfront with or without a gaming component. And the company will undoubtedly continue its efforts to legalise casino gaming in Florida, with another attempt coming as soon as 2014. "We're still on the drawing board," said Mr Manzano-Plaza.
Opponents, too, said they would remain focused on the issue. "This is like psoriasis," Mr Goldman said at the Make Art Not Casinos event. "It keeps coming back, and you have to fight it with stronger and stronger drugs."