China’s ban on cryptocurrency mining has forced bitcoin entrepreneurs to flee overseas. Many are heading to Texas, which is quickly becoming the next global cryptocurrency capital.
When China announced a crackdown on bitcoin mining and trading in May, Kevin Pan, CEO of Chinese cryptocurrency mining company Poolin, got on a flight the next day to leave the country.
“We decided to move out, once [and] for all. [We’ll] never come back again,” Mr Pan told the BBC.
Headquartered in Hong Kong, Poolin is the second largest bitcoin mining network in the world, with most of its operations in mainland China. The country was home to around 70% of global bitcoin mining power, until the clampdown sent the price of bitcoin into a tailspin and caught miners off guard.
Now China’s “bitcoin refugees” are urgently scrambling to find a new home, whether in neighbouring Kazakhstan, Russia or North America, because for bitcoin miners, time is literally money.
“We had to find a new location for the [bitcoin mining] machines,” Poolin’s vice-president Alejandro De La Torres said. “Because every minute that the machine is not on, it’s not making money.”
In what some call the “Great Mining Migration,” the Poolin executives are among the many bitcoin miners who have recently landed in a place reputed as part of America’s wild wild west: Austin, Texas.
Bitcoins are a digital currency with no physical form – they exist and are exchanged only online.
They are created when a computer ‘mines’ the money by solving a complex set of maths problems and that is how bitcoin ‘miners’ who run the computers earn the currency. This takes a lot of energy.
As a new form of money that transcends national boundaries, there is also much confusion and potential to run afoul of government rules – so two things bitcoin entrepreneurs value are cheap electricity and a relaxed regulatory environment.
The Lone Star State fits the bill to a tee. New frontier for bitcoin mining
For Mr Pan, Texas felt like home almost instantly. Days after his arrival, he was gifted an AR-15 rifle, which he says he may use to “hunt hogs from a helicopter” one day.
While the shooting ranges and Texas barbeque provide for welcome entertainment, legal protection for business is the major attraction for the bitcoin miners. “What happened to us in China won’t happen in the US,” Mr De La Torre says.