I tried to buy $1 of bitcoin from a Las Vegas ATM — and it just proves how far bitcoin is from replacing regular money

LAS VEGAS – I’ve been in Las Vegas for a whole week, but I’ve only gambled twice: when I played $1 on The Simpsons slot machine in my hotel, and when I tried to buy $1 (and then, another $10) of bitcoin from a casino ATM.

Both times, I lost it all.

I had heard that the D, a casino and hotel in downtown Las Vegas, had a bitcoin ATM that made it easy to buy and sell the red-hot digital currency. I was intrigued by my colleague’s account of a bitcoin ATM in New York City, which he used to buy $5 of bitcoin back in September. So I figured, hey, Las Vegas is about taking chances, and so is bitcoin.

I’m no cryptocurrency expert — once, many years ago, someone sent me a super-tiny sliver of bitcoin that vanished when the app he used to send it shut down, and I haven’t touched it since. So to get started, I went in intending to invest a single, solitary dollar.

To use the ATM, I first had to download a bitcoin-wallet app, which you use to store your digital currency. I settled on Coinbase, from the $1.6 billion startup of the same name. I verified my account, easy-peasy, got my unique QR code to receive funds, and I was ready to go.

bitcoin atmThe bitcoin ATM in question. Matt Weinberger

The ATM experience itself started out smoothly. Before I even started, it told me it was valuing bitcoin at a hair over $15,000 per coin, meaning my $1 would buy the barest, tiny sliver of a single coin. That was fine, I knew what I was in for. The ATM verified my identity with a text message sent to my phone, and everything went smoothly.

Then, I put in my dollar bill. It told me it wasn’t enough to receive any bitcoin, whatever that meant. So I put in the only other bill I had on me, which was a $10. Still not enough! I guessed there was some kind of minimum that I just wasn’t hitting, but the machine wasn’t really communicating it to me.

So I cancelled the transaction. It warned me that in doing so, I would “forfeit” my bitcoin, and not get any in return. Whatever.

But then, my $11 never came back out. At all. I even asked for a receipt, which didn’t print. It’s gone, forever.

I reached out to Coin Cloud, the company that made the ATM, to see if this was working as intended. Here was their response:

“The machine cannot refund the case. However, we can manually send you the bitcoin at the appropriate rate. The reason why your transaction did not go through was due to the miners fee. Miners fees are at $40-$45 per transaction. I am estimating that the amount that you will receive will be $1-2 in btc. Please provide me with the phone number you used at the machine and a wallet address where you can receive btc too.” […]

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