According to recently announced plans the US Treasury is about to expand its anti-money laundering regulations to include virtual currencies.
Current AML rules requires businesses to report transactions exceeding a value of USD 10,000 in order to impede the uncontrolled domestic and global movement of illegal revenues. So far this regulation applied only to “real” currencies (i.e. issued and guaranteed by a country’s central bank), but rapid technological development has raised the need to redefine what is real.
The virtual currencies targeted are of course not the “Monopoly money” used in social gaming (even when it is purchased for real cash), but rather those virtual means of payment that experience high-volume, real-world traffic and are accepted by a wide range of retailers and service providers across the world.
BitCoin comes to mind immediately, as the virtual currency best fitting this description.
The technology behind BitCoin requires no central bank to issue and guarantee it, and therefore no authority is keeping a watchful eye over it either. Its value and integrity are based on intricate algorithms and a massive volume of users, which so far have made it a highly reliable alternative currency since its 2009 launch.
At the same time, this lack of regulation has apparently made the US nervous, fearing that the anonymity of BitCoin transactions may serve as a channel for funding illicit deeds.
By now the virtual currency has become accepted by a large number of retailers and other companies, including foreign sites popular among those who wish to play online poker in the US.
American gambling laws prohibit such activity on a federal and international level, and the US government has consistently tried to block payments to such sites. BitCoin transactions could have been a convenient method to circumvent these prohibitions.
Certainly, the tasking of businesses, such as the American internet casinos of the not-too-distant future, with reporting high-value virtual currency transactions may make some of them shy away from adding the BitCoin option to their sites. Nevertheless, the growing popularity of this payment method and the increasing number of its users is likely to be an adequate motivation to counter this urge.