One of the main obstacles holding back mass adoption of Bitcoin is that it's not all that easy for the average person to buy it.
That is quickly changing, however, with the spread of Bitcoin ATMs. The few hundred Bitcoin ATMs scattered around the world right now will bloom into tens of thousands over the next few years, and eventually hundreds of thousands. (There are about 2.2 million conventional ATMs in the world.)
That kind of accessibility will prove key to the wider adoption of Bitcoin. But the machines also need to be easy to use, a consideration the Bitcoin ATM pioneers already seem to understand.
"A lot of people have called our [Bitcoin] ATM the 'on-ramp to the masses,'" Jordan Kelly, the chief executive officer of Las Vegas-based Robocoin, told Bloomberg TV earlier this year. "What we've created is the easiest way to buy and sell."
So far there are at least four companies making Bitcoin ATMs – New Hampshire-based Lamassu, Ottawa-based BitAccess, San Diego-based Genesis Coin Inc., and Robocoin.
And sales are booming. Lamassu CEO Zach Harvey said at the CoinSummit this week in San Francisco that his company has already sold 220 Bitcoin ATMs.
"We try to make the machine as shiny and sexy as possible. I think the experience, that's when people start understanding it," Harvey said.
Harvey told The New Yorker that Lamassu is already turning a profit on its $5,000 Bitcoin ATMs and expects to ship 110 more over the next three months. His machines are already operating in places like Helsinki, Bratislava, and Albuquerque, N.M.
Bitcoin ATMs Will Multiply Rapidly Once Regulations Are Settled
At this point, the only thing holding back the even more rapid spread of Bitcoin ATMs is the lack of clarity on regulations. Many potential buyers are waiting to see what happens before they jump in.
In addition to regulations that might apply to digital currency in general, owners of Bitcoin ATMs will almost surely face addition rules that govern money-dispensing machines, such as a rule requiring that transactions of $10,000 or more be reported.