Bitcoin has won the Money20/20 Payments Race! Competitor Amelie Arras surprised the crowd in Las Vegas by collecting the most points and arriving on time. She beat out four other racers who traveled from Toronto to Nevada using only one payment method each.
‘The Arduous Task of Bitcoin’
Arras won despite being given what the emcee described “the arduous task of Bitcoin”, completing the 2,300 mile journey from Toronto to Las Vegas in less than a week.
The rules insisted no debit cards or swapping payment methods for hard cash. Every transaction had to use the specific method to directly pay the product/service provider. Any form of transport was OK.
Challenges along the way involved taking selfies in strategic locations, taking helicopter rides, and making a purchase in Singapore.
It wasn’t all fun. Competitors reported lost luggage, being almost stranded, and “strange characters” encountered on Greyhound buses.
Winners’ List and Payment Methods
The winners’ table, along with their payment methods, were as follows:
Last: Jordan Dusty Drew, Contactless (“tap”) came last — was unable to finish the race and replaced by Daniel Hanmer
4th: Jessica, Moorhouse, Chip & PIN (no magstripe cards or swiping allowed)
3rd: Stuart Thomas, Single dollar bills — but he spent half as much as anyone else
2nd: Ash Cooper, Gold — “by a smidgen”
1st: Amelie Arras, Bitcoin
Racers’ Comments and Hardships
The race revealed many key issues and atomization problems with modern payment methods, even in the world’s most advanced economy. Despite the widespread acceptance of technology and low-tech methods like cash, it’s still necessary to prepare in advance and use multiple payment methods to travel and live. While magstripes still rule across the U.S., foreign visitors to the country may struggle.
“The biggest problem (with gold) is no-one accepts it anymore!” said Cooper.
Contactless/tap came second in the European race, but the U.S. was a very different story. Racers primarily used Apple Pay.
Tap payer Drew said, “Similar to Bitcoin, no-one knew what it was! … As soon as I got to the U.S., no-one knew what it was… no-one wanted to hear what it was. Some knew what Apple Pay was, but it often didn’t work.”
Even Drew’s replacement struggled:
“I had to stay in Denver airport for three days … thank god for Subway, Starbucks and Walgreens.”
Chip & PIN was easy in Canada, but hard in the States — “Everything says swipe-only,” said Moorhouse. “Every time I bought something, I had to ask first. Most places didn’t even know what chip & PIN was. It was like ‘no, just swipe’.”
“When I was in the airport, not a single shop or restaurant accepted chip & PIN.”
Single dollar bill racer Thomas was surprised at his troubles:
“How hard can it be? Cash is King, right? Wrong … booking things like hotel rooms and transport, you had to bank on the fact there was space when you arrived — because with cash I couldn’t pre-book anything … also, carrying around 2,000 pictures of George Washington in my bag didn’t feel like the safest thing in the world.”
Bitcoin’s Community Helped Win the Race
Despite the rules, several racers survived only with the help of friends and others nearby. That’s actually where Bitcoin shone — most payment methods don’t come with a fan community.
“Bit-what?” winner Arras laughed. The hardest part was having to explain what bitcoin was, let alone getting them to accept it,” she said.
“The only thing that got me here is Bitcoin people.” It’s really easy to send BTC from one wallet to another, she said, but buying real-world goods and services was far more difficult.
The Payments Race finale wrapped up Money2020 USA in Las Vegas. Attention now shifts to the inaugural Money20/20 Asia event next March in Singapore — where Amelie will return for a new race across Asia.
Are you surprised Bitcoin beat out all other payment methods? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Images and video via Jon Southurst