Amherst County, Virginia, doesn’t have a hospital. It does have a Bitcoin ATM.
It’s inside the Dogwood Express Market, a convenience store just down the road from the local used-car dealership. The machine lets people buy, receive and send Bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency.
Whether they choose to do so, however, is another matter. “I’ve never seen anybody even use it,” Chrissy Scruggs, a 27-year-old employee at the Dogwood Express, said in October.
Since the first Bitcoin ATM was installed almost a decade ago, the number of machines proliferated, impervious to cryptocurrencies’ boom-and-bust cycles. From the bustling streets of New York City to rural communities like Amherst County, they popped up everywhere, physical symbols of crypto’s growing mainstream appeal.
Then came 2022, and a “crypto winter” that sent Bitcoin plunging 64% and swept away companies from Celsius Network to Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX. The number of crypto ATMs in the US peaked at just over 34,000 in August and has since dipped slightly, according to Coin ATM radar, which tracks the machines. September marked the first month in the industry’s history that more ATMs were retired than installed, Coin ATM data show (October saw a small rebound).
Even worse, the amount of money the average machine handles has fallen sharply, calculations by Bloomberg News based on available industry data show.
The total amount of money funneled through crypto ATMs globally, expressed in dollars, fell to $230 million in October from $349 million in January 2021, according to data from researcher Chainalysis. The drop came even as the number of machines installed worldwide almost tripled in the period. That implies a roughly 75% decrease in the value the average unit generates.
Many ATMs now get little, if any, use. At the Smoke Shop convenience store in midtown Manhattan, there’s one tucked away between shelves of soda and snacks. Syed Alam, who works at the store, said he doesn’t pay much attention to the machine. At noontime on a recent Friday, he reckoned at least one person had used it that day. Every two weeks or so, someone comes to collect cash from the unit.
What’s clear, though, is that usage has dropped off in the past year. “Now, it’s slow,” said Alam, 49.
With demand waning, executives who had been used to plugging in units as fast as they could negotiate new leases are facing tougher choices.
Coin Cloud, which runs about 5,000 ATMs across the US and Brazil, has tapped advisers to help it rework about $125 million of debt accumulated to fund an aggressive expansion, Bloomberg News reported in November. The company has been seeking additional funding from troubled crypto brokerage Genesis, people familiar with the matter said.