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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A year ago, one bitcoin would have cost you roughly $11,000. Today it fetches a little more than $3,000.
Despite the 70% drop, a local bitcoin business says they are booming. They make bitcoin ATMs.
Could it be the next generation of banking or money laundering?
At the Valero gas station on 27th Avenue in Miami you can fill up on gas, snacks, and bitcoin.
Yes, right next to the traditional ATM is another that accepts your cash and sends you the digital currency instantly.
Alvaro Silva, uses the machine regularly to send money to Venezuela.
He explained to CBS4 that banking and inflation rates are out of control. He says to send $60 via the bank to his family would cost him $30 in fees, losing half its value.
Sending the same amount via a bitcoin ATM, cost him $9. The money appears instantly on his phone. He then sends it to family.
The whole transaction he says takes “Less than 10 minutes actually.”
If you have never seen nor heard of a bitcoin ATM or BTM, you are not alone. They started appearing in just the past few years.
Andrew Carey, co-founder of a local company Bitstop put his first ATM down in Wynwood in 2015. It was more of experiment.
“Next thing you know, you have people driving down from Orlando. Driving down from Tampa to use the bitcoin ATM in Wynwood,” Carey said.
Today Bitstop has roughly 100 BTM’S nationwide and are launching a franchising operation to put the machines around the world.
He likens bitcoin and BTM’s to online shopping on the internet.
“Now we don’t think twice about giving our credit card to the internet. The same thing is going to happen with bitcoin. One day it will be very familiar to see a bitcoin ATM in an airport. Or see a bitcoin ATM in a money exchange or a hotel,” said Carey.
We wondered why though? Cash is used less and less everyday. Plus there are plenty of places you can buy bitcoin online.
Silva says for the unbanked (those without bank accounts) this is the solution.
“Well the online exchange you sometimes have to wait like one week or two weeks to have your money available to buy cryptocurrency. For example I pay with cash I have access right away,” he said.
For those without bank accounts and those less tech savvy perhaps BTM is the solution.
But BTM’s have also become popular for criminals. Specifically money laundering.
Carey explained, “More than anything it’s the wild Wild West in Bitcoin. Bitcoin ATM’s rather. This is a new industry. It went from zero arms 5 years ago. Today there is 4500 worldwide. It’s one of those things where regulators are still trying to figure it out.”
It is unclear who licenses or what BTM are required to do. When you go to a bank your ID is verified This is done to track criminal activity including terrorist funding.
Yet, with BTM’s you can easily find machines across the country now that will take your cash, give you bitcoins, without any ID.
“I don’t know how many exist because they don’t report them anywhere. There are some machines out there that don’t take any ID at all and usually charge a higher price as a result,” Carey said.
Bitstop has chosen to license themselves as a money exchange.
So they require ID, keep records and limit the amount you can purchase daily. But they are the exception.
“There is always going to be bad apples in any industry. Just like realtors. Just like mortgage brokers. My stance is that in the long run we will shine thru,” Carey said.
Bitstop is confident it is just a matter of time before regulators catch up and regulate these machines.
Carey also told us that he does not see this as a revolution, rather it’s an evolution of money.
He believes the Bitcoin ATM and regular ATM will be merging one day. Time will tell.