Steve Russell is something of an archaeologist. But instead of tracking the history of ancient Roman relics and artifacts, he works to track the history of items left behind by visitors at Caesars Palace.
One recent morning, Russell entered his windowless second-floor office in one of Caesars' hotel towers, a black garbage bag filled with artifacts left behind by recent visitors slung over his shoulder.
As supervisor of Caesars' lost and found for the past three years, Russell sees lots of left-behind items -- cell phones, Bibles, medicine ... and lots and lots of clothing -- that are found abandoned in hotel rooms, the casino or the hotel's convention areas.
Most of the items left behind are personal, things like reading glasses, business cards, shoes and liquor, Russell said.
Money and gaming chips are also found, but those are stored at a separate location with the inventory receipt kept on file at the lost and found room.
Most of the items are collected by housekeeping, and anything that is not immediately claimed will eventually land with Russell and his staff.
His staff inventories the items, sorts them by date, logs them into a database and stores them in cubicles for up to 30 days.
"We're able to research it that way when the actual owner calls us to claim their items," said Russell, who previously worked in the lost and found departments at Harrah's and the Rio.
Caesars tries to return as many items as possible.
However, even items found in a guest room might not be returnable if the hotel has incomplete contact information, he said.
"We try to return as many items as we can with the information that we have," said Russell, estimating that the lost and found department has a 35 percent return rate on the 2,500 items it receives each month. Russell says, though, that guests often don't try to recover easily replaceable items, such as business cards or clothes.
If a guest did not leave a phone number, Russell's department will try to find one using the Internet. The hotel-casino, however, won't mail items to guests without first talking to them on the phone.
The lost and found section's efforts don't always pay off, and many of the lost items end up never being claimed.
After 30 days, employees have 10 days to claim items they found, excluding items such as credit cards and medicine.
Other unclaimed items are donated to charities.
Clothing, for instance, is donated to the local charities Safe Nest and Shade Tree, which work with victims of domestic violence.
Cell phones are sent to a charity that resells them to groups that refurbishes them. The proceeds go to buy calling cards for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Eyeglasses are sent to charities that distribute them to residents of Third World countries who cannot afford frames.
Items such as medication, identification cards and credit cards are destroyed to protect personal information.
Cash not claimed after 90 days is donated to the employee crisis fund, which helps needy workers.
Russell is surprised by some of the lost items that are never claimed. Expensive items such as laptops, shopping bags full of purchases, even a military dress sword, are some of the things that have gone unclaimed, he said.
The number of lost items the resort staff finds rises during three-day weekends and special events such as Super Bowl weekend, but Russell said the economy also affects his department.
His department is finding fewer lost items making their way to the lost and found now, Russell said.
Russell admits that fewer people are visiting the property now, but he said guests are more conscientious about their belongings.
"We've definitely had more call (backs) for high-value items now than we did before because people are trying to hold on to their stuff now," Russell said. "When you put out $200 for a camera, you want to make sure the camera comes back."
And helping keep Caesars' customers happy by reconnecting guests with their possessions makes Russell happy, too.
"I liked doing it because it made people happy and I got to return their stuff to them," Russell said about beginning his career with Harrah's Las Vegas' lost and found department. "We all know what it's like to leaving something behind and getting it back. I'm just trying to help people out."
Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at email@example.com or 702-477-3893.