I bought $20 worth of bitcoin at an ATM in Albuquerque

ATMABQ07 Mar 2014 / CNET – ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It smells like cigars in here, which makes sense because I’m in a cigar bar called Imbibe in the trendy Nob Hill neighborhood of Albuquerque. I’m not here for rye whiskey or a smoke, though. I’m here to buy some bitcoin.

The Lamassu bitcoin kiosk sits prominently on a counter, not far from the door. It’s being promoted as the first publicly available US bitcoin vending machine. If it’s not the first, it’s definitely one of the first. Eric Stromberg, owner of Enchanted Bitcoins, the kiosk operator, stands beside it with an Asus Netbook at the ready.

Stromberg originally wanted to launch the $5,000 machine in San Francisco, but the regulatory tangle was daunting, so he chose New Mexico instead. “New Mexico was one of the few states with friendlier regulations,” he said. For federal compliance reasons that Stromberg calls complicated but doesn’t detail further, he takes down my name, address, and phone number in his Netbook before I can use the machine. He said he has to monitor users of the ATM for “suspicious activity.”

I pull out my trusty old Droid X and open my Bitcoin Wallet app. It displays a QR code connected to my virtual wallet. I scan it up next to a clear window on the machine. The device sucks in my $20 bill and the transaction goes through.

A few seconds later, the wallet on my phone updates and I’ve gone from a balance of 0 bitcoin to 27.90 millibitcoin (millitbitcoin, the default measurement unit for my digital wallet, represents thousandths of a bitcoin; it’s easier to read than tiny fractions). It was all immensely painless.

The Lamassu machine — which is mounted on a metal plate for security and looks a bit like an overgrown classic all-in-one Mac — doesn’t actually give money back. It only changes cash into bitcoin. Stromberg had considered other machines, but settled on this one because his focus is on “making bitcoin easy to get.” He actually installed the machine and had it running more than a week ago. “Essentially no one noticed,” he says.

People are noticing now. I had to wait while two local guys bought some bitcoin using special paper bitcoin “wallets” with QR codes before I had my chance at the kiosk. This kind of wallet allows anyone to just walk up and get bitcoin without having a virtual wallet already.

Right now, the machine needs to be attended by a person to fill in the compliance records, so it’s not as simple a process as using a regular ATM….. Read more


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