New York’s Bitcoin ATM Could Hit BitLicence Snag

Joon Ian Wong
Jan 14, 2014 at 13:58 UTC
Updated Feb 18, 2014 at 18:23 UTC

The combination of Gotham and cryptocurrency has proved to be a powerful lure for New York City’s top tabloid this week.

The New York Post reported on a Brooklyn man who has purchased a Lamassu bitcoin ATM and is planning to install it in the city’s fashionable East Village.

The Post likened Lamassu’s compact table-top units, which stand 48cm tall and weigh about 45kg each, to a “typical deli ATM” – the small cash points often found in a corner of the city’s ubiquitous provisions shops.

The Lamassu units, which convert fiat currency to bitcoin, have been described by the company’s co-founder Josh Harvey as bitcoin “vending machines” rather than ATMs.

The ATM owner is 30-year-old Willard Ling. Ling is planning to install his machine at a ‘bubble tea’ shop called Just Sweet, in downtown Manhattan’s stylish East Village. Bubble tea is a sweet, milky, tea drink that usually contains chewy tapioca balls, known as ‘bubbles’. The drink was popularised in Taiwan and has since spread across the globe.

Ling said he ordered his Lamassu unit after reading this CoinDesk article about the rapid growth in Lamassu’s sales. He said the machine would be installed after he incorporated a company to operate the ATM and worked out whether the machine is legally considered an ATM, vending machine or kiosk. He is also awaiting the results of New York state’s public hearings on so-called ‘BitLicences’.

New York’s BitLicenses

In recent months, the state of New York has started to engage with the bitcoin economy. The state’s Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) will hold public hearings on the regulation of digital currencies on the 28th and 29th of January in the city.

Meanwhile, Lamassu and rival manufacturer Robocoin are racing to sell ATMs around the world, from Slovakia to São Paulo and Hong Kong, even as new competitors, like the Skyhook ATM, enter the scene with cheaper models.

At the core of the New York regulatory discussion are the so-called ‘BitLicenses‘, which would be a licensing requirement specifically for businesses dealing in what the NYDFS terms “virtual currency”, which would include bitcoin and other digital currencies.

The NYDFS hearing will include a “broad cross-section” of observers and participants in the “virtual currency industry”. Ling welcomed the regulatory engagement on the matter. He said:

“Hopefully [BitLicences] will be issued and will affect me and everyone else in the industry positively.”

As a result of New York’s regulatory focus on bitcoin, there is a possibility that Ling’s bubble tea ATM won’t be installed any time soon, as Inc. magazine’s Wire blog pointed out. In the meantime, the cryptocurrency machine will sit gathering dust in Ling’s apartment.

Updated to include Ling’s quotes on 15th Jan.

Featured image: Pascal Subtil / Flickr