The US Marshals Service announced Thursday that it will hold an auction next month to dispose of 3,813 bitcoins, worth a cool $52 million at today’s price. The coins were seized in “various federal criminal, civil, and administrative cases”.

Selling off Bitcoin is a routine process for the US Marshals Service, but the recent boom in cryptocurrency has meant that the enforcement arm of the judicial system is now essentially gambling in crypto-currency. Given the massive price swings that Bitcoin has experienced in the last three months, the precise timing of an auction could have huge implications for how much money the courts receive. But for investors, the simplistic nature of the auction and the large number of coins involved present a one-off opportunity to make a tremendous profit.

Prospective investors have until January 19th to register, and wannabe investors will have to put down a $200,000 deposit before the auction to prove that they’re serious. The coins are being auctioned off in blocks, rather than individually, which is what makes this particular auction interesting. The smallest block is 500 coins, worth around $1.4 million. Large volumes of Bitcoin are not traded as frequently as you’d believe, as most transactions involve a fraction of one coin. Investors may well be able to buy a block for below current market value, and then arbitrage it off in smaller pieces to turn a quick profit.

The auction is not open and all bids are secret, meaning bidders aren’t going up against each other in a room. Winners will be informed of their successful bid on January 22nd.

Chris Mills has loved tinkering with technology ever since he worked out how to defeat the parental controls on his parents' internet. He's blogged his way through Apple events and SpaceX launches ever since, and still keeps a bizarre fondness for the Palm Pre.