The world's first bitcoin ATM launched last year in Vancouver, Canada. Now there's also a physical place in the U.S. Northwest to buy and sell the virtual currency. A bitcoin ATM was just installed inside the entrance of a Seattle sports bar popular with tech workers. It is at the Spitfire Grill in the Belltown neighborhood.
The operator of the ATM kiosk is a startup called Coinme. Nick Hughes is its general manager. He hopes a physical presence can build trust and legitimize the alternative currency.
"Once there is something brought into the physical world, it does create an opportunity for education and community around it," Hughes said.
Hughes offers demos to customers on how to convert cash to bitcoin or redeem bitcoin for cash. The machine requires government ID and a palm print to operate. This is for security and to discourage illegal activity.
Hughes says his company wants to test consumer acceptance of this bitcoin machine before it deploys any more in the region. For Northwest bitcoin users, it could mean access to cash in minutes rather than days.
Bitcoin users pay for the convenience of using this ATM. The owner charges a 5 percent transaction fee.
The cryptocurrency has been rather volatile lately. Speculative demand drove the value of one bitcoin over $1,100 in December. More recently, the threat of government regulations or crackdowns on trading drove the exchange rate below $400. On Friday, the price of one bitcoin fluctuated around $445 according to CoinDesk.com.
Bitcoin aficionado Ryan Watt, a young man from Seattle's eastern suburbs, showed up at the new ATM on its first day in service.
"I've been using bitcoins for a couple of years," says Watt. "There's an easy way to get your money out of bitcoins now."
Before, he says,"I've just kept all my bitcoins in an account. I have only been able to spend it online."
KPLU reporter Rae Ellen Bichell contributed to this report
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