You can now buy Bitcoin virtual currency—and trade it for cold, hard cash—at Pioneer Place mall. Local company BitcoinNW has installed a Bitcoin ATM in the Pioneer Place food court as of November 15.
Bitcoin is an electronic currency that is not tied to any state government—making it popular among web libertarians. But until recently, Bitcoins could be traded only on the Internet, and are accepted as currency only at a small number of businesses such as Whiffie's Fried Pies food cart, burlesque-centric strip club Kit Kat Club and the website Overstock.com. It is the most prominent such alternative currency, though a Beaverton programmer designed another popular currency called Dogecoin that briefly had more trading volume than Bitcoin.
Users of the Pioneer Place ATM can now trade the virtual currency for U.S. dollars—in $20 and $100 bills. The world's first Bitcoin ATM was installed in Vancouver, B.C., in October 2013; Furs bought his first Bitcoin there. Seattle installed its first Bitcoin ATM in May. Two other Portlanders designed a Bitcoin ATM this year, but the Skyhook machine does not dispense cash. Other ATMs are located at PDX Hackerspace and Float On, but this is by far the most prominent location for a Bitcoin ATM.
Oregonian and former banker Mike Fors, founder of BitcoinNW, writes that he spent seven months working with the state of Oregon to comply with regulations in order to install the ATM. Though it works like an ATM from the user's perspective, it is essentially an automated currency exchange: The value of Bitcoins versus the dollar has fluctuated wildly, from a peak of over $1,000 in December of last year to its current value of $400; the currency started at an equal exchange of one dollar per Bitcoin.
Fors also helps local businesses accept Bitcoin, which the company says avoids bank processing fees. One hurdle, however, is that due to the user verification system Bitcoin transactions can take minutes to process. The ATM removes this hurdle for point-of-sale transactions. The machine charges a 5 percent currency-exchange fee on transactions, which can be conducted for amounts up to $2,500 per day.
Here are Fors' videos about how to use the ATM.