The Hypersonic XSL roller coaster isnt the only new attraction this year at Paramounts Kings Dominion.
The Golden Dollar made its debut at the amusement park near Richmond, Va., this month when ticket takers and concessionaires began making change with the coins. Kings Dominion is distributing them through an agreement with the U.S. Mint, which created the coin last year to replace the unpopular Susan B. Anthony dollar.
The Mint has sought out high-traffic areas and we see two and a half million guests a year, said Mark Riddell, a spokesman for Kings Dominion. We think the Mint will be pleased with our ability to circulate the coin.
Kings Dominion is just one of many retailers the Mint is partnering with in hopes of increasing the coins circulation and use, which a banking trade group president says is still a major problem.
Though the Golden Dollar was introduced about 18 months ago with much fanfare, many consumers still view it as a collectors item. People are holding on to the coins, not spending them, said Mint spokesman Michael White. They love the design.
Made of layers of manganese brass and copper, the Golden Dollar depicts Sacagawea, the young Native American woman who helped Lewis and Clark as interpreter and guide on their famous expedition.
To get more people to spend with the coin, the Mint in recent months has enlisted grocers, pancake houses, toll takers, concert promoters, and minor-league baseball parks to make change with golden, as well as paper, dollars.
It began distributing the coins last year, starting with Wal-Mart and Sams Clubs stores. This angered community bankers, who were embarrassed that their customers could get them from those stores cashiers but not from their tellers.
Eventually the coins were shipped to banks, but consumer response fell well short of the Mints expectations. So Mint officials went back to the drawing board and identified eight business sectors as potential target markets, according to a March 31 report to Congress: financial institutions, retailers, grocery stores, fast-food restaurants, the vending industry, transit authorities, government agencies, and the entertainment industry.
Its more than 750 partners, spanning 230,000 locations, include Allfirst Bank in Baltimore, Safeway supermarkets, the concert promoter SFX, IHOP Corp., and the Trenton Thunder Baseball Club and other minor-league baseball teams.
Mr. White acknowledged that it will take some time for people to change their habits and behavior and use the coins daily.
But the Mints partnership with IHOP, the pancake restaurant chain, is already proving fruitful. IHOP began distributing the coin April 30, and within two months had helped put some six million Golden Dollar coins into circulation. The chain has ordered an additional two million coins, Mr. White said.
The vending machine industry, for one, would like to see more consumers using the coins. As Tom McMahon, vice president and chief council for the National Automatic Merchandising Association, put it, Coins work better in vending machines than paper money, and nobody argues with that.
Close to 75% off the nations six million food and beverage vending machines accept the Golden Dollar, and the rest are being converted, Mr. McMahon said.
Its slow, and theres some expense, he said. By the end of 2002 we hope it will be virtually 100%.
Vending machines read the size, weight, and electromagnetic signature of a coin. Though golden dollars have a different weight and size than the Susan B. Anthony dollar, the Mint created the Golden Dollar to have exactly the same signature, which assured immediate use by vending equipment.
He said use of the Golden Dollar varies in his industry. It tends not be used much in airport vending machines, for example, because airport customers are not apt to have the coins on hand. In a factory, however, where there will typically be a bill changer owned by the same company that owns the vending machine, Golden Dollars are given in change and then used to purchase food or drinks.
John Rasmus, senior counsel with the American Bankers Association, said there appears to no lingering resentment among community bankers over the Mints decision to kick off the Golden Dollars distribution through Wal-Mart stores.
Banks are supportive of the coin in the sense that theyre responding to their customers needs, Mr. Rasmus said. If people ask for it, if businesses need it, banks whenever possible are meeting their needs.
He added that the U.S. Mint made modifications in the coins distribution. They were cooperative, and it was a good dialogue between the banking industry and U.S. Mint.
Kenneth A. Guenther, president of the Independent Community Bankers of America and a member of the National Advisory Committee on the Golden Dollar to the director of the U.S. Mint, agreed.
It was a tactical decision by the then-director of the Mint to get the coin into circulation, Mr. Guenther said of former U.S. Mint director Philip N. Diehls decision to introduce it through Wal-Mart. But the major issue of getting the coin circulating and being used remains a major problem.
The decision at the time gave the dollar publicity, he continued, but in the final analysis it did not lead to consumer demand for the dollar.
Hundreds of millions of Golden Dollars have been minted, and Mr. Guenther says they are sitting at the Federal Reserve. Banks are not stocking or ordering them from the Fed because too few people want them or use them, he said.
The big question is if the Golden Dollar is going down the same path as the Susan, Mr. Guenther said. The only solution may be to do away with the dollar bill, but the political will has not been there. The day will come, but its not high on the priority list right now.
Still, the coin has had some comparative success. It took 21 years to circulate 920 million Susan B. Anthony dollars. More than 1.2 billion Golden Dollars have been produced and more than 800 million are in circulation, according to Mint statistics.
Mr. White said the goal was always to create another coin that people view as convenient, not replace the beloved dollar bill.
Americans want the choice, he said. There are times when the coin will be more beneficial than paper money.