Atokad horses

Jockeys and their horses battle for position at a race at Atokad Downs on Sept. 5, 2008. The South Sioux City track closed in September 2013, ending 56 years of live thoroughbred racing.

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal file

SOUTH SIOUX CITY | In its heyday, Atokad Downs drew busloads of out-of-state residents eager to enjoy a day of betting on a full slate of thoroughbred racing.

As a boy, Dan Doocy and his family traveled to Atokad from their home in Iowa to watch his brother, Tim Doocy, ride racehorses.

“Racing was kind of robust then,” said Dan Doocy, the former general manager of the South Sioux City track, which closed in September 2012. “The crowds were plentiful and the fields were full.”

The number of fans in the once-packed grandstands began to dwindle in the late 1980s, as other, faster-paced forms of gambling emerged in the region. One of the biggest blows was the arrival of a riverboat casino in neighboring Sioux City in 1993.

Atokad lost its state racing license in 1998 due to financial problems, and went into receivership the following year. It later regained its license, but as attendance continued to lag, the racing schedule was cut back. In its final five years, it held only one live day of racing per year, the minimum the state required for horse tracks to offer betting year-round on races simulcast at other tracks around the country.

In May 2012, the beleaguered track and buildings were sold to Ho-Chunk Inc., the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska's economic development corporation. Atokad closed three months later, ending 56 years of horse racing.

Atokad's owner, the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, used the proceeds to help construct a new track in Lincoln that replaced the previous one that was razed for an expansion of the University of Nebraska campus.

Ho-Chunk demolished the Atokad grandstand and other buildings to make way for a proposed $30 million casino and entertainment venue that the corporation unveiled last year.

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