Bitcoin, released to the world in 2009 by a person or people called Satoshi Nakamoto, is not backed by a central bank or a government and is seen as an alternative payment system. In February 2013, Bitcoin went into the mainstream as a monetary crisis threatened to bankrupt Cyprus, seen as a safer bet. Early adopters of Bitcoin have been richly rewarded as the price has soared – in one case, a young Norwegian bought a house from an $850,000 windfall on a US$22 investment.
Company offers bitcoin instead of cash in lai see packets
Lunar New Year tradition was turned on its head yesterday with lai see packets filled with bitcoin coupons instead of cash being handed out to the public.
In the biggest bitcoin giveaway in the world, 50,000 red packets are being distributed all over Hong Kong.
But people thinking they have struck it rich will be disappointed. The roughly 20,000 red packets distributed so far are worth HK$10 each, a fraction of the cost of one bitcoin.
Watch: HK$500,000 giveaway... in Bitcoin
Organisers still have 30,000 packets left that are up for grabs today at the International Finance Centre and Lan Kwai Fong in Central, Times Square and Sogo department store in Causeway Bay, The One shopping complex on Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, and Wan Chai MTR and Mong Kok MTR stations. Hong Kong's largest bitcoin exchange ANX, which is behind the stunt, is hoping people will use bitcoins and spur a wider take up of the controversial digital currency.
"We are trying to help the eco-system," said Lo Ken-bon, the company's founder and managing director.
"One of the biggest issues is the adoption of it because it's too complicated for most mainstream users - we are trying to get them started as easily as possible. We've got a lot of people talking about bitcoin already, and more are very excited and curious."
The current price of bitcoin stands at HK$6,170 on the ANX exchange.
As people rushed to grab lai see packets, initially thinking there was cash inside, a few shook their heads on finding coupons, clearly vague about the concept.
"I've heard of it on the news," said Maria Pang. "You can use it to purchase something, use it like money … they said it is something like an online coupon."
Australian tourist Marley Hawke said he heard about it on the internet. Asked if bitcoin interested him, Hawke said: "Not until I find out more about it … I've only heard [of] the name, and that's the first step isn't it, getting the name out there?"
Bitcoin has caused a split among governments, with the mainland's central bank cracking down on its use as the value soared, along with India and Indonesia.
However, Singapore and Switzerland have embraced the digital currency by taxing it.