SOUTH SIOUX CITY -- Atokad Downs' 58-year run of pari-mutuel thoroughbred racing will come to an end in four months.
The Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association said Tuesday it has agreed to sell the South Sioux City racetrack to Ho-Chunk Inc., the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska's economic development corporation.
Simulcasting is expected to continue at Atokad through Sept. 1. Enthusiasts will be able to bet on Saturday's Kentucky Derby, Atokad general manager Dan Doocy said.
A Ho-Chunk spokesman on Tuesday declined to comment on the pending sale, or what it intends to do with the property.
While the association has accepted Ho-Chunk's offer, it has given truck auction firm Taylor & Martin until Friday to match it, said Greg Hosch, vice president of racing operations for Omaha Exposition and Racing, which manages Atokad for the horsemen's group. Taylor & Martin, which currently leases a large portion of the Atokad property, holds a right of first refusal, he said.
Either way, a new owner would not keep the track open past Sept. 1, Hosch said.
For more than a decade, Atokad has operated just one live date of racing a year. That's the minimum required under state law for Nebraska tracks to simulcast races from horse tracks in other parts of the country.
Atokad, which simulcasts every day except Christmas, attracts 40 to 50 bettors on a typical weekend, Doocy said. Just a handful of people turned out Tuesday afternoon, including Don Linafelter, who started trained horses at Atokad beginning in 1956, just two years after the track opened.
"It isn't what it used to be," Linafelter said as he sat at a table studying racing forms.
In its heyday, Atokad attracted big crowds from the region, with buses and vehicles filling the sprawling parking lot. Betting began to dwindle in the 1990s, with the arrival of a riverboat casino in neighboring Sioux City that offered slot machines and table games.
The horseman's association, which owns all five horse tracks in Nebraska, is selling Atokad to generate revenue to finance a replacement to its existing racetrack in Lincoln.
"It was painful deciding to close Atokad and to let many long-term employees go," association president Todd Veerhusen said in a news release. "But that operation is suffering and we need to make good business decisions with the resources we have.
Atokad employs nine people, Doocy said.
The group announced Tuesday it will purchase and develop a site at U.S. 77 and West Denton Road in Lincoln. The association has an agreement with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to vacate the existing track at the old State Fair Park in July and the simulcast facility there in September 2013 to make way for the improvements planned for Nebraska Innovation Campus.
With the sale of Atokad, Nebraska horse racing will be consolidated to four tracks -- Fonner Park in Grand Island, the Platte County Agricultural Society track in Columbus, Horsemen's Park in Omaha and the replacement track in Lincoln.
The association plans to develop the Lincoln site over several years, starting with a simulcast facility in late summer 2013, then use revenue from that to build a grandstand, 1-mile track and barns for as many as 1,000 horses, the group said in a news release.
-- The Lincoln Journal Star contributed to this story.