Five local businesses have agreed to accept the cryptocurrency Bitcoin as a method of payment, Forward Sheridan announced this week.

The Sheridan Mill Inn, Tom Balding Bits and Spurs, Luminous Brewhouse, The Clothing Co. And Baby Too and Big Horn Design Studio decided to allow Bitcoin payments after Forward Sheridan CEO Jay Stender and local programmer Spencer Kuzara, of Cypher Software and Phorge Makerspace, made a presentation discussing the benefits.

Stender said Kuzara approached him about offering the capability to local businesses and he saw an opportunity to help Sheridan businesses set themselves apart.

“The whole idea, from our perspective, is to provide Sheridan businesses with a distinct marketing advantage,” Stender said.

He added that the move also gives Sheridan businesses the opportunity to enter a vast new market; Stender estimated there is roughly $150 to $160 billion in Bitcoin wealth globally.

“The momentum that’s going to occur with this…is going to set us across a platform that’s way beyond just Wyoming,” Stender said.

Businesses will be able to accept Bitcoin through an app called BitPay, they can install on computers, tablets or phones free of charge. Kuzara said the app is easy to use and can protect businesses from some of the risks associated with Bitcoin.

While Bitcoin is secure, its value is not stable; the currency is still prone to erratic fluctuations, which is why many users store it as a long-term investment rather than use it as an everyday currency.

Businesses who accept Bitcoin payments, though, will have the option to instantly convert the payment to dollars through the BitPay app, ensuring they are paid the full cost of the transaction before the currency’s value can swing.

The app charges a 1 percent transaction fee when payments are converted.

Kuzara got involved with Bitcoin in 2010 after a client he did programming work for offered to pay him with the digital currency. Shortly thereafter, the currency jumped in value, essentially increasing Kuzara’s payment.

“That definitely piqued my interest, and I kind of got sucked into it,” Kuzara said.

Since then, he has dedicated most of his programming efforts to making the technology more accessible.

“I’m personally obsessed with making it easier,” Kuzara said. “Because it’s really cool, but it’s also really complicated.”

He added that, as a consumer, he sees advantages in using Bitcoin due to the security it provides and the fact that it does not need to pass through a third-party, like a bank or credit card company.

Stender said Forward Sheridan has reached out to the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Sheridan Association to raise awareness of the availability of Bitcoin payments. Forward Sheridan hopes to recruit at least 25 local businesses to accept Bitcoin.

Sheridan’s adoption of Bitcoin payments is part of a statewide trend of businesses in Wyoming exploring how to capitalize on the state’s embrace of related technology.

During the latest budget session, the Wyoming Legislature passed five bills related to blockchain, the database technology that underlies cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, making it the friendliest state in the country toward blockchain and cryptocurrency businesses.

Broadly, blockchain is a peer-to-peer network that stores identical copies of a ledger in each node of the network.

Changes to the ledger are authenticated against every node.

Therefore hacking the network would involve changing the data on dozens, perhaps hundreds, of computers simultaneously, which is virtually impossible. The security blockchain provides allows it to support currencies without risk of them being counterfeited or stolen.

Though the technology is expanding, it is also still taking shape, and how its value and utility will evolve is still unknown. But with the move to accept cryptocurrency payments, Sheridan is one step closer to finding out.