In order to maintain its long-term goal and racing license, the new Atokad track in Sioux City hosted a brief, live, three-horse race on Saturday.
The former Atokad Downs was purchased in 2012 by the economic development wing of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, Ho-Chunk Inc. That year only one live race was held to maintain simulcast rights for the remainder of the year. The hope at the time was to later develop a $30 to $40 million casino at the site located in South Sioux City, Nebraska.
In order to make that dream a reality, two things must happen; at least one live race must be held at the track this year, so that the racing license the tribe received from the state of Nebraska earlier this year can be maintained; and a stalled proposed amendment to the state’s constitution legalizing casino wagering at the track and other horse tracks in Nebraska must be passed.
Ho Chunk Inc.’s development director, Alexcia Boggs, said on Friday that since the course is new, state officials only allowed the company to race three horses at the 5pm race held this past Saturday. Boggs said, “We have to get it broken in and make sure everything is running smoothly for the first year,” according to the Sioux City Journal.
The former grandstands at the Atokad have since been torn down, so on Saturday temporary facilities were used to facilitate wagers and serve food and beverages. A furlong 65-foot-wide track was recently completed at the track, which was built in 1956 and featured grandstands for as many as 2,600 spectators and barns for 500 horses. Not unlike other thoroughbred tracks in Nebraska at the time, the track began experiencing hard times in the 1990’s as casino gambling found their way to neighboring Iowa.
More than 120,000 signatures, of the 117,188 needed, were gathered this summer by the Ho-Chunk and Nebraska Horseman’s Association-financially backed pro-gambling group, Keep the Money in Nebraska, to get the ballot initiative to legalize casinos at the state tracks on the November ballot. However, after about 35 percent of the votes collected were rejected by Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale’s office due to invalided signatures or unregistered voters, only 77,956 signatures were validated and the amendment fell short of qualifying for addition to the ballot.
Boggs said that after the failed initiative, Ho-Chunk is now in the regrouping stage and, “We are still moving forward with our Plan B. We are trying to continue the effort to expand casino gambling in Nebraska. We are still surprised and shocked and trying to evaluate ourselves internally on what things went wrong,” according to the news agency. Bogs said that studies and outreach polls show that a majority of the state’s voters are in favor of the amendment and want to “keep the money in Nebraska.” Bogs went on to say that, “All the money is leaving (Nebraska) and we aren’t getting any of the benefits from that, so we are trying to continue forward with this.” The tribe’s development director went on to say that next year the Ho-Chunk plans to improve the race track with the addition of simulcast wagering and a sports bar.