Tucson is home to the first bitcoin automated-teller machine in Arizona, which recently began operating inside Bookmans Entertainment Exchange at 3733 W. Ina Road.
Bitcoin is a global software-based payment system that has been called crypto-currency or digital currency. Bitcoins are not backed by any government and is largely unregulated; payments are recorded outside the traditional banking systems in a public ledger.
Javelin Investments LLC, a Tucson company, owns and operates the machine inside Bookmans — one of only about 145 bitcoin ATMs worldwide and about 25 in the U.S., according to various tracking sites.
Javelin owner Brian Williams says the Bookmans ATM is his first foray in the market, and he’s mainly using it to learn about the business. Though he’s taking a conservative approach, Williams said if the initial ATM does well, he would consider adding the machines at other Bookmans locations.
“It’s a little bit of exploring it with this first one,” Williams said. “I feel like a machine like this gives more access to bitcoins, so people can oftentimes have their first experience with bitcoin.”
Launched by a still-anonymous person or group in 2009 as open-source software, bitcoin has attracted worldwide interest as an alternative payment system. But bitcoin also has attracted criticism over its potential for fraud and money-laundering; the system suffered a serious setback in late 2013 when a major bitcoin exchange in Japan failed after reporting that some $450 million in bitcoins were lost or stolen.
After peaking at more than $1,100 last year, the price of one bitcoin is now hovering around $620, according to major exchanges.
One of the advantages of the ATM is it can be much quicker to buy bitcoins than using an exchange or digital “wallet” service, which may involve bank-account verifications or wire transfers that can take days. With a free smartphone app, ATM users can get their bitcoin on the spot, said Wiliams.
“For the most part, it’s instantaneous like an email,” Williams said.
A relatively small but growing number of businesses are accepting bitcoin as payment, including global retailers like Overstock, Newegg and Dell computers, and locally, places including Cartel Coffee Lab and Arizona’s Printer Services.
The bitcoin machine at Bookmans accepts U.S. currency and credits the user’s “wallet” in bitcoins, or BTC, in whole or fractional amounts. The ATM, made by Portland, Ore.-based startup Skyhook, collects a fee of 5 percent over the current bitcoin value on Coinbase, a major bitcoin exchange, with a transaction limit of $500.
Bookmans owner Bob Oldfather said he’s always been interested in emerging technologies, citing the electric-car chargers that he’s installed at each of the six Bookmans locations in Tucson and the Phoenix area.
“For now we will have the ATM so that you can buy bitcoin for cash and get instant delivery,” Oldfather said. “In the future, Bookmans will be accepting this new currency at our registers as well.”