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Hoping to Spread the Trend, Bitcoin ATM Opens in Pioneer Place

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


The new Bitcoin kiosk in Pioneer Place Mall.

Bitcoin has become so mainstream in Portland that there's even a Bitcoin automated teller machine in the Pioneer Place Mall. The machine was installed Monday and is one the first ATMs of its kind in Portland to allow people to convert their digital currency into U.S. dollars.

Bitcoin is a digital “currency” that lacks many of the conventions associated with traditional money. It’s not a physical item that you can hold in your hand. It’s not issued by a government or bank and its value is based solely on the demand for it at a given time. Bitcoins were valued at over $1,000 a year ago, but now are worth between $300 and $400.

The ATM in Pioneer Courthouse Square Mall is more like a currency or stock exchange than a real ATM. When someone wants to extract money from their bitcoin account, the machine sells the bitcoins on a global bitcoin marketplace that operates 24 hours a day. The machine then dispenses cash. The machine may sell a bitcoin for $390 on one day and $375 the next.

“We want to bring bitcoin to the masses,” former banker turned bitcoin-enthusiast Mike Fors said. “It’s a great to to pay for things, or for investment. It’s really revolutionary.”

The ATM was the brainchild of Fors, the founder of BitcoinNW — a newly-established brokerage firm specializing in the bitcoin trade. Fors’ firm is the only broker in Oregon capable of making bitcoin transactions for up to $100,000.

Another Portland-based company, Project Skyhook, previously produced a Bitcoin ATM that's used Portland and a number of locations around the world. The Project Skyhook ATM, however, does not dispense U.S. dollars; only allowing customers to buy bitcoins - not sell them, like the new machine in the mall can. There's also a Bitcoin ATM operated by BTC Mint US on SE Hawthorne Boulevard has similar capabilities to the Pioneer Place machine, although it's closed until Nov. 25, according to the company's website.

“Portland is a very unique community where they like to keep things local and try to help save each other money,” Fors said, “so we thought bitcoin was a natural progression for that.”

According to Fors, Portland merchants can save big money by accepting bitcoin as a method of payment.

“They don’t pay that 3 to 4 percent that Visa and Mastercard charge. There’s absolutely zero risk and zero fees using bitcoin,” Fors said, “which can save vendors a lot of money.”

There are approximately 25 businesses in the Portland area accepting bitcoin.

Papa G’s Vegan Organic Deli was one of the first businesses in Portland to jump on-board. A clerk for the store said very few shoppers use Bitcoin, aside from several regulars.

“But during the Million Mask March, there were a lot of people who came in and were really excited that they could use bitcoin here — so there we had a lot that day,” the clerk said.

The Million Mask March was a demonstration organized by Anonymous, a political activism group made up of hackers and coders who often wear Guy Fawkes masks in public.

Despite its perceived popularity of Bitcoin in the hacker community, Fors said he didn’t have techies in mind when he didn’t install the Bitcoin ATM with Portland’s techies in mind.

“People in the tech industry already knew about Bitcoin and knew how to access it,” Fors said. “It was people like me who didn’t really know how to access bitcoin, like when I first started, who I really wanted to introduce this machine to.”

Fors said he hopes that having his ATM in a highly visible area will bring more validity to the crypto-currency and eventually more users.

Jon Hannis is the co-founder of a Portland company that produced a Bitcoin ATM used in several countries. He said he’s been fascinated with Bitcoins since they first became available in 2009. According to Hannis, Bitcoin is still in its beta stage and consumers should err on the side of caution.

Hannis, a co-founder of Project Skyhook, shared Fors’ optimism, but said volatility of the bitcoin market is the reason the digital currency it hasn’t caught on more.

“Personally, I'm generally reluctant to recommend consumers and businesses to accept bitcoin here in Portland,” Hannis said. “I don't know if it is right for all small businesses.”

It took several months of meeting with state officials for Fors to obtain licensing to run his ATM, he said.

“The state didn’t really know what direction this was going to go,” Fors said. “Once they saw what we were wanting to do, they thought it was a great idea.”

The state’s biggest concern, according to Fors, was bitcoin being used to launder money.

Two Florida men were charged with money laundering earlier year after trying to sell their bitcoins for approximately $30,000 in cash on the coinbase website.

“I think when dealing with anything with the public, (the government) just wants to keep the public safe,” Fors

Fors is now focused on expanding the number of merchants in Portland that accept Bitcoin.


CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the Bitcoin ATM at Pioneer Place Mall was the first Bitcoin ATM in Portland. GoLocalPDX regrets this error.


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