Games room specialist Liberty Games has created a bitcoin-operated pool table that runs on Raspberry Pi. Next to the table's traditional coin slot, there is a QR code and an LCD screen, which displays the price per play in bitcoins. Users simply scan the QR code and send the displayed amount to the owner's bitcoin wallet address. The machine then automatically tips the balls out - they don't have to be manually released.
Stuart Kerr, technical director at Liberty Games, said he decided to give the idea a try after reading CoinDesk's article 'Will bitcoin ever be used for gas pumps, parking meters and pool tables?'. He said it didn't take very long to move from concept to finished product: "Actually writing the code for the Raspberry Pi wasn't too bad, there's loads of support out there. I just took a few things from GitHub and the like and changed them around a bit.
"Then we had to wait a while to get the pool table, because they're all made to order, so that wait was probably the longest part of the process." There's a lot of unused space inside a pool table, so fitting in the Raspberry Pi, which is very small anyway, was no problem, he added, before stating that the table can be powered either by a battery pack or via a mains adapter.
Setting the price
The owner of the pub or pool hall that houses the table can decide the price-per-play. "There's an in-built web admin control on the Raspberry Pi, so when you turn it on, the LCD display gives you the IP address, so you just put that in the web browser of a computer that's on the same network and you get a screen where you can set up the price-per-play," Kerr explained. He said it can be linked to an RSS feed showing the bitcoin to pound sterling exchange rate, then a rolling average exchange rate is used to calculate what the price is in bitcoin. As for the cost to the owner, Kerr said it's "not actually too bad" at around £100-£150 more than a normal pool table would cost.
Pool Table Analytics
Analytics of the table's use can be accessed through the Raspberry Pi's web admin. Kerr said the analytics are pretty basic at the moment, but the company will continue adding features to it. "We'll make it so you can see how many games have been played since you last checked and when its most popular hour was - which a standard pool table just doesn't give you," he explained.
The company, which ships worldwide, is now looking at adding bitcoin payment options to a number of its other products, which include jukeboxes and pinball machines. Next on the list, though, is an arcade machine.
The publican's view
Kerr said he'd not yet been in touch with any pubs about the table yet, but we spoke to Stephen Early, founder and director of Individual Pubs limited, which owns five pubs in the UK that accept bitcoin. He said he thinks the table "looks good" and added:
"I think that if we installed one of those tables in our pub in Hackney [London] it would get a reasonable amount of use - although, just like with our tills, the vast majority of the time people will still use pounds."
Early thinks the biggest problem would be getting power to the table as most pubs don't have a socket in the floor under their pool tables, and the Raspberry Pi can "really eat batteries". He said Liberty Games would have to be careful if it creates machines that accept bitcoins, but pay out prizes in pounds, as those may become a target for fraud. Early explained his pubs are currently receiving around £1,000 in bitcoin per month: "It's not a big part of our business, but it was definitely worth doing. Even if nobody uses it, it doesn't cost us anything to maintain."
CoinDesk had one more pressing question that it wanted to get to the bottom of: how are bitcoiners supposed to reserve their place in the queue for a pool table? Usually, people leave their coins on the side of the table to signal their intention to play the next game, but bitcoiners don't have anything physical to put down. "Damn - I didn't think of that. Although, I could potentially add in a queuing system that displays the bitcoin address of the next player up!" Kerr replied. Watch the bitcoin pool table accepting bitcoin in the video below: