Bitcoin has a reputation as a shady crypto-currency, beloved by internet drug pedlars and high-risk investors looking to cash in on its famously unstable market value. But Anthony Di Iorio is hoping that some Torontonians will want to use and exchange Bitcoins in a way that looks and feels a little more normal. He’s the operator of Toronto’s first Bitcoin ATM, opening this week at Spadina and King.
For those unfamiliar with Bitcoin, it’s just a type of electronic currency. It’s “mined” virtually by computers, and it’s typically traded on online exchanges, where users can buy Bitcoins or cash them out in local currency. The system underpinning Bitcoin payments has a sophisticated way of keeping users anonymous, which is why the stuff eventually became the coin of the realm in online drug markets—though it also has plenty of innocuous uses.
The ATM will be located at 64 Spadina Avenue, in a 5,500-square-foot space that Di Iorio, who is the executive director of the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada, has turned into a Bitcoin-business incubator called Bitcoin Decentral. The ATM was built by an Ottawa-based group called BitAccess (Vancouver has a similar ATM that was made by a different company). It had a soft launch on January 1, and Di Iorio intends to open it to the public this week.
The machine is supposed to simplify the often-complex process of buying Bitcoins by turning it into a push-button operation. “You walk up to the machine, you put in your phone number, and it sends a PIN to your phone,” Di Iorio said. The ATM uses the phone numbers to track how many Bitcoins each user buys in a day, which Di Iorio says is for regulatory reasons. (The numbers are deleted regularly.) Each time someone places an order for Bitcoins through the ATM, the ATM automatically buys those Bitcoins on an online exchange. Di Iorio will earn a to-be-determined percentage on each transaction. The machine doesn’t dispense cash in exchange for Bitcoins—at least not yet. Di Iorio hopes to have it doing that within the next few weeks.
The ATM and its attendant operations are part of a larger attempt to normalize Bitcoin. Di Iorio thinks it’s possible. “We’re involved in different projects to get more merchants accepting it,” he said. “Bitcoin is the easiest way to send money anywhere in the world.”