When bitcoin’s price skyrocketed last year, suddenly a bunch of people wanted to get in on the action but didn’t know how. But the currency’s shady origins and digital only echo-system isolated it from a whole swath of interested investors. Soon start-ups set about trying to bridge the gap between the digital and physical world, and a few stumbled on a common contraption: The ATM.
Today, Bitcoin’s price is well below it’s historic high, but interest in the currency remains strong, and companies are trying to bring it to more investors.
Brandon Mintz is the CEO of Bitcoin Depot, an Atlanta company that distributes Bitcoin ATMs across the country. Machines like his are the only places where you can use paper money to purchase digital currency.
Mintz’s Atlanta-based company operates Bitcoin ATMs across the country. The machines are the only places where you can use paper money to purchase digital currency. There’s no wait time like there is online, where an exchange can take weeks to verify your identity and banking information. All you have to do is enter your name, phone number, and scan a photo ID if your purchase is more than $2,000.
There are now more than 3,000 according to Coin ATM Radar, a website that maps them. But in the U.S., there is almost no federal or state monitoring of Bitcoin ATM transactions — which makes it hard to get a clear picture of who is feeding cash into these machines and why.
So far, New York is the only state that requires Bitcoin ATM operators to have a license. Companies like Bitcoin Depot self-report suspicious activity to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a bureau within the U.S. Treasury Department created to, “determine emerging trends and methods in money laundering and other financial crimes.” But they do so without independent oversight.
In a statement to VICE News, Bitcoin Depot said, “Bitcoin Depot has outstanding compliance policies and strives to go above and beyond all know your customer (kyc) and monitoring requirements at its ATMs.”
The ATMs themselves cost as much as $10,000, compared to a few thousand for a regular ATM. Some let you sell Bitcoin and take cash out; most don’t. Mintz estimates that his customers put tens of millions of dollars into his machines every year. Host stores can expect to make an average of a few hundred dollars a month.