An El Dorado Hills startup has installed what it says is the Sacramento area’s first bitcoin machine, although shoppers on Friday in Westfield Galleria at Roseville seemed mystified by the device.
That’s not worrisome to Coinucopia founder James Eads, who believes that bitcoin “is to U.S. dollars as email is to letters” and ultimately will become mainstream.
Eads said the machine, which went live at the mall on Oct. 31, has already been used by Galleria shoppers who have accessed at least $1,700 worth of bitcoin.
“Over the initial weekend, there was a pretty good surge of use considering that it hadn’t been advertised hardly at all. It was a soft opening,” Eads said.
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Bitcoin, a virtual currency that has attracted both worldwide supporters and detractors, functions as an online payment network in which users track, store and send payments using the Internet. Transactions typically require bitcoin users to have a “virtual wallet,” to keep track of the coinage, which doesn’t exist in a physical form.
At Westfield, officials said shoppers can use Gyft, a mobile gift-card wallet, to spend their bitcoin at 26 stores, including Victoria’s Secret, Gap and American Eagle Outfitters. Westfield officials referred all further questions to Eads.
Bitcoin advocates tout its speed, worldwide-payment virtues and its absence of reliance on banks and credit card companies. In January, the Sacramento Kings announced that bitcoin would be accepted for online ticket sales and at the team store in Sleep Train Arena.
Others, however, fear its potential for being hacked online. The currency, which first appeared in 2009, has also been troubled by thefts, arrests and bankruptcies involving some of its original founders and users.
At the Galleria, the bitcoin machine stands alone in a mini-alcove on the second floor, adjacent to the mall’s carousel ride. The machine, which sits atop a waist-high pedestal, resembles an ATM with a touchscreen and a slot for accepting cash. According to Eads, bitcoin users scan a QR code from their smartphone, insert cash and “instantly” receive bitcoin into their digital wallets. From beginning to end, the process takes as little as 15 seconds, Eads said.
On Friday, scores of early afternoon shoppers walked by the machine without giving it a glance. Others, stopped and asked about the machine, had no clue what it was.
“I thought it might be an ATM,” said Roseville resident Bev Thomas.
“Is it a price-checker (machine)?” asked South Placer resident Randall McCoy.
“It’s a bitcoin machine? ... Does it spit out coins?” ventured Robin Brown of Citrus Heights.
None of the puzzlement bothers Eads, who is confident that bitcoin will “revolutionize commerce in the same way that the Internet revolutionized communication.”
Eads said he purchased the bitcoin machine from a New Hampshire-based manufacturer and hopes to install other Coinucopia machines soon at as-yet unnamed sites in south Sacramento and San Jose.
Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.